Tuesday, April 4, 2017

At Home - Bill Bryson

The concept is nothing short of brilliant : Intertwining domestic history - that of living conditions in our homes throughout the centuries, a sadly overlooked subject - with the major events that helped shape today's world. 
Plus, Bryson is just the man to do it; light-heartedness and a sense of humour are much too rare in history writers.

In the end, however, it turns out 600 pages is just a tad too long for the sort of detail Bryson keeps going into. Insignificant facts can be fun, but I'm sorry to say sometimes they are just insignificant. (The biography of the man who invented chemical fertilizer? Not interested, thank you.)
Kill your darlings, Bryson. Kill your darlings.

Some of the insignificant facts that actually amused me, though :

- Plenty of the foods we now consider as delicacies were very common in 18th century America, such as lobster or caviar, which was set out as a bar snack. 

- The sudden boom in mid-19th century reading material (novels, newspapers, periodicals...) was linked to the arrival of gas light, making nightly reads a lot easier than candles had.

- The British boost to amateur gardening went hand in hand with the arrival of newly found exotic plants, from explorers all over the world, and the rise of the railway, allowing for greater space to garden on. This had consequential changes for the women, notably, who suddenly had an occupation outside the home (albeit not very far away).

In short, to quote Bryson "the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly".

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