Title: At Home: a short history of private life
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Non-fiction, History, Humor
Bill Bryson and his family live in a Victorian parsonage in a part of England where nothing of any great significance has happened since the Romans decamped. Yet one day, he began to consider how very little he knew about the ordinary things of life as found in that comfortable home. To remedy this, he formed the idea of journeying about his house from room to room to “write a history of the world without leaving home.” The bathroom provides the occasion for a history of hygiene; the bedroom, sex, death, and sleep; the kitchen, nutrition and the spice trade; and so on, as Bryson shows how each has figured in the evolution of private life. Whatever happens in the world, he demonstrates, ends up in our house, in the paint and the pipes and the pillows and every item of furniture.
Reason I read this book: I read this book due to the fact that I had heard a podcast announcing the book back in March or April. When I heard the description of the book, I went to my library’s online catalogue and requested it. I think I was one of the first people to get the book in their hands in my library system.
Thoughts: The book initially appealed to me due to the fact that I am a history major and most things that have a historical bent on them I am attracted to read them. It took me a little longer than I had really want to read the book, but other books made this a read that took a little longer than it probably would have taken me.
I quite enjoyed this book and found it a fascinating read and something that when I did get into it, I didn’t want to put down. But I also found it difficult to read it just for the sake of reading, as the information was quite dense and did require quite a bit of focus to understand where Bryson was taking us. It was really packed with information, more than I expected, but it was an enjoyable read. One of the things that I found the most interesting was that the manual can opener has only been in existence for 85 years and that the larder was where one stored food and that a scullery was meant for the cleaning of dishes, pots, and pans with the kitchen being the area that was done only for the cooking, at least in larger homes
It was also fascinating to find out that architecture is considered to be a relative new field and that it was only formalized in the last 150 or so years. And that what we call a comfortable home is a relative modern concept and one that has evolved over time, especially since nobody seems to know why humans decided to set down roots and build homes as they do.
I also found it interesting that the phrase “sleep tight” came from the fact that beds used to have slats that often would need tightening from time to time and were often not the most comfortable thing in the world.
I really quite enjoyed the book, not only because of the fact that one learned as to why we have certain things in our homes versus other items, but because one learns of the greater historical value of how things have evolved and have become commonplace.
Bottom Line: I would recommend this book who has read a Bill Bryson book and also somebody who is curious as to why certain things are in a home and some aren’t. While he doesn’t get into great detail as to why there is cupboards in your kitchen, he does give you a fascinating look into how homes have become the comfort zones that they have become.