American author Bill Bryson has long been a favorite of mine with his mix of humor and erudition. Particular favorites of mine include Walk in the Woods (a journey along the Appalachian Trail) and A Short History of Nearly Everything which should be required reading in every science classroom. Click on the pictures below to see more information about each book.
Suggested reading age 11+
Ignoring such dangers - yet curiously obsessed by them - Bill Bryson journeyed to Australia and promptly fell in love with the country. And who can blame him? The people are cheerful, extrovert, quick-witted and unfailingly obliging; their cities are safe and clean and nearly always built on water; the food is excellent; the beer is cold and the sun nearly always shines. Life doesn't get much better than this.
And, as soon as Bill Bryson was old enough, he left.
Des Moines couldn't hold him, but it did lure him back. After ten years in England, he returned to the land of his youth, and drove almost 14,000 miles in search of a mythical small town called Amalgam, the kind of trim and sunny place where the films of his youth were set. Instead, his search led him to Anywhere, USA; a lookalike strip of gas stations, motels and hamburger outlets populated by lookalike people with a penchant for synthetic fibres.
Travelling around thirty-eight of the lower states - united only in their mind-numbingly dreary uniformity - he discovered a continent that was doubly lost; lost to itself because blighted by greed, pollution, mobile homes and television; lost to him because he had become a stranger in his own land.
But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey and Shellow Bowells, people who said 'Mustn't grumble', and Gardeners' Question Time.
At the age of forty-four, in the company of his friend Stephen Katz (last seen in the bestselling Neither Here nor There), Bill Bryson set off to hike through the vast tangled woods which have been frightening sensible people for three hundred years. Ahead lay almost 2,200 miles of remote mountain wilderness filled with bears, moose, bobcats, rattlesnakes, poisonous plants, disease-bearing tics, the occasional chuckling murderer and - perhaps most alarming of all - people whose favourite pastime is discussing the relative merits of the external-frame backpack.
Facing savage weather, merciless insects, unreliable maps and a fickle companion whose profoundest wish was to go to a motel and watch The X-Files, Bryson gamely struggled through the wilderness to achieve a lifetime's ambition - not to die outdoors.
Of course there were things Bryson missed about Blighty but any sense of loss was countered by the joy of rediscovering some of the forgotten treasures of his childhood: the glories of a New England autumn; the pleasingly comical sight of oneself in shorts; and motel rooms where you can generally count on being awakened in the night by a piercing shriek and the sound of a female voice pleading, 'Put the gun down, Vinnie, I'll do anything you say.'
Whether discussing the dazzling efficiency of the garbage disposal unit, the exoticism of having you groceries bagged for you, the jaw-slackening direness of American TV or the smug pleasure of being able to eat your beef without having to wonder if when you rise from the table you will walk sideways into the wall, Bill Bryson brings his inimitable brand of bemused wit to bear on that strangest of phenomena - the American way of life.
Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people's hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.
Bill Bryson's first travel book opened with the immortal line, ‘I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.' In his deeply funny new memoir, he travels back in time to explore the ordinary kid he once was, and the curious world of 1950s America. It was a happy time, when almost everything was good for you, including DDT, cigarettes and nuclear fallout.
This is a book about growing up in a specific time and place. But in Bryson's hands, it becomes everyone's story, one that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.
Shakespeare’s life, despite the scrutiny of generations of biographers and scholars, is still a thicket of myths and traditions, some preposterous, some conflicting, arranged around the few scant facts known about the Bard – from his birth in Stratford to the bequest of his second best bed to his wife when he died.
Following his international bestsellers ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ and ‘The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid’, Bill Bryson has written a short biography of William Shakespeare for the Eminent Lives series – which seeks to pair great subjects with writers known for their strong sensibilities and sharp, lively points of view.
With Troublesome Words, journalist and bestselling travel-writer Bill Bryson gives us a clear, concise and entertaining guide to the problems of English usage and spelling that has been an indispensable companion to those who work with the written word for over twenty years.
So if you want to discover whether you should care about split infinitives, are cursed with an uncontrollable outbreak of commas or were wondering if that newsreader was right to say 'an historic day', this superb book is the place to find out.
In Made in America, Bryson de-mythologizes his native land - explaining how a dusty desert hamlet with neither woods nor holly became Hollywood, how the Wild West wasn't won, why Americans say 'lootenant' and 'Toosday', how Americans were eating junk food long before the word itself was cooked up - as well as exposing the true origins of the G-string, the original $64,000 question and Dr Kellogg of cornflakes fame.
Only Bill Bryson could make a book about the English language so entertaining. With his boundless enthusiasm and restless eye for the absurd, this is his astonishing tour of English. From its mongrel origins to its status as the world's most-spoken tongue; its apparent simplicity to its deceptive complexity; its vibrant swearing to its uncertain spelling and pronunciation, Bryson covers all this as well as the many curious eccentricities that make it as maddening to learn as it is flexible to use.
Bill Bryson's classic Mother Tongue is a highly readable and hilarious tale of how English came to be the world's language.
Whether braving the homicidal motorists of Paris, being robbed by gypsies in Florence, attempting not to order tripe and eyeballs in a German restaurant, window-shopping in the sex shops of the Reeperbahn or disputing his hotel bill in Copenhagen, Bryson takes in the sights, dissects the culture and illuminates each place and person with his hilariously caustic observations. He even goes to Liechtenstein.
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.
Many books are also available on audiobook, great for listening to at night or in the car.