At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson is the book for this month’s History Book Group (December 20 at 7pm if you are interested in coming). As with a lot of the books for the History Book Group, I find myself rushing at the last minute to get them read. This time I cheated a little and have been listening to it as an audio book on my commute. It’s read by Bryson, who has a lovely reading voice, and it’s been a pleasure to listen to. The link above is to the library’s downloadable audio book. If you would like the print version you can click here.
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 he found it 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.