Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: At Home

I'm a long-time fan of Bill Bryson's writings. He's often hilarious, and when he's not being funny, he's just downright interesting. While this book wasn't one of his humorous contributions, it was delightfully intriguing. He covers such a gamut of topics that it is hard to believe it is all pulled together around the theme of such an elemental framework as the home. At times, it felt like he was following rabbit trails, but even the rabbit trails were historically interesting (although many Amazon reviewers gave it low marks for historical inaccuracies so I'm not sure all of it can be taken as fact). For anecdotal history buffs, this is a must-read.

As the back cover proclaims:

"The bathroom provides the occasion for the history of hygiene, the bedroom for an account of sex, death, and sleep, the kitchen for a discussion of nutrition and the spice trade, and so on, showing how each has figured in the evolution of private life. From architecture to electricity, from food preservation to epidemics, from the telephone to the Eiffel Tower, from crinolines to toilets - and the brilliant, creative, and often eccentric talents behind them - Bryson demonstrates that whatever happens in the world ends up in our houses."

My favorite bits were the stories of engineers who changed the world by solving various problems, including the fascinating one of sewage (full of stories of horrifying deaths, like the individuals who went down on a sinking cruise ship and were overwhelmed by toxic gaseous sewage). I also enjoyed the tales about mice and rats and other creatures which disturb our domestic domains. Every little tidbit is presented with such flair that it all swirls together into one highly interesting tale of the history of the development of aspects of our homes. It is a book I will gladly turn to again as there is no way my brain will manage to contain all the fascinating details presented in this tome (and it is a tome - in audio form, it was 13 compact discs long, at a total of 16 hours and 33 minutes).

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