At Home – A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

by |May 21, 2010

I believe we may have something in common…  In the last few years there is a good chance we both bought at least one book by Bill Bryson… which just might mean you share my love for Bill Bryson’s writing.

If you do, I have news, Bill Bryson has written a new book – At Home – A Short History of Private Life.

My love of Bill Bryson’s books started years ago with Neither Here Nor There. A book so funny I could not read it in public for fear of embarrassing myself terribly. How so? I cannot say in polite company, it involves snot. Lots and lots of snot.

Bill Bryson’s travel books are funny, endearing and informative, his honesty, intelligence and openness make him the best of guides.

And yet, it wasn’t until I read A Short History of Nearly Everything and soon after, Shakespeare, that I really came to appreciate the true scope of Bill Bryson’s brilliance. He offers us the greatest subjects known to man – science and art – and instead of lecturing us, or boring us, or patronising us he makes us feel as though we are learning together. His enthusiasm is contagious.

In At Home, Bill Bryson applies the same irrepressible curiosity, irresistible wit, stylish prose and masterful storytelling that made A Short History of Nearly Everything one of the most lauded books of the last decade, and delivers one of the most entertaining and illuminating books ever written about the history of the way we live.

Bill Bryson was struck one day by the thought that we devote a lot more time to studying the battles and wars of history than to considering what history really consists of: centuries of people quietly going about their daily business – eating, sleeping and merely endeavouring to get more comfortable. And that most of the key discoveries for humankind can be found in the very fabric of the houses in which we live.

This inspired him to start a journey around his own house, an old rectory in Norfolk, wandering from room to room considering how the ordinary things in life came to be. Along the way he did a prodigious amount of research on the history of anything and everything, from architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the spice trade to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets; and on the brilliant, creative and often eccentric minds behind them. And he discovered that, although there may seem to be nothing as unremarkable as our domestic lives, there is a huge amount of history, interest and excitement – and even a little danger – lurking in the corners of every home.

Where the prizewinning A Short History of Nearly Everything was a sweeping survey of Earth, the universe and everything, At Home is an inwards look at all human life through a domestic telescope. Because, as Bryson says, our homes aren’t refuges from history. They are where history begins and ends.

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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at

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