Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life

At Home: A Short History of Private LifeAt Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Purportedly a history of domestic life from the Victorian age on, this seems mostly an excuse for Bryson to ramble on about things that are interesting and possibly maybe tangentially related to his ostensible topic, houses. Like, did you know that there are only about 20 molecules of francium in the planet at one time? Or that modern garbage disposals make the perfect food for rats? Why does the chapter on the cellar have nothing to do with cellars and end up talking about the Eiffel Tower? Of course the history of the dining room leads inexorably to the Sepoy Mutiny. Of course! But it's all fascinating and Bryson has a way of making what you would think the dullest history come to life. I think this book is especially interesting for those who read and write historical fiction, as it does illuminate many semi-random aspects of what life was like in the past 200-300 years. And it certainly explains why so many 18th and 19th century clergyman also produced such astounding, breakthrough scholarship.

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