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.
Reviewed on 13th June 2010
While this is an interesting read, I'm not entirely convinced that it does what it says on the tin. From Reading the blurb and product descriptions on websites, the impression I got was that it was literally a history of his house. Okay so that doesn't sound like too attractive a proposition, but I expected a little more focus on the house.
Instead, it's a social history of the last 150 years, using the house as just a structure for telling the anecdotes and factoids that Bryson has selected. The focus of the history is an odd mix, jumping back and forth between the UK and US. Despite that, I still found it an accessible read without having to know too much American history. I'm not sure whether the same would be true for an American reader.
As the content goes, it's presented in a manner that reminds me of schoolbooks for young children. Details are presented a fact with little or no discussion of how much evidence there is or dissenting views. I think it might just be that wikipedia has tuned me into thinking differently - and after every factoid I was thinking 'and what's your source for that?' Particularly as a lot of the claims seemed implausible, such as Thomas Jefferson being the inventor of the french fry.
Overall it was an entertaining light read, but I can't honestly say I took away anything I would call knowledge. I was disappointed that the history if the actual house was sidelined, and some areas were gone into in too much detail. I'm not sure I would actually recommend it.