Bill Bryson: At Home

I have finally completed Bill Bryson’s At Home, another of my Christmas present books. 500 pages packed tight with fascinating detail of personal and family life through the ages, it is a ‘must-read’. 

It allegedly takes the form of a guided tour through his own home, an old rectory in middle England, though that is merely the frame onto which he grafts the most intimate and fascinating myriad of anecdotes and personalised scientific research.

It is not as good as Short History of Nearly Everything, but few books are. I may dip into it from time to time – indeed I may find room on Journal for some of his anecdotes – but I will never re-read it in its entirety, a certain endorsement.

He finds room for some stories – the origin of maize, for example – from Charles Mann’s 1491, but totally ignores the principal thesis of that fine work, the fact that native Americans (Indians) had established huge cities thousands of years before the white invasions and had complex and extremely advanced societies that were lost forever mainly through the transmission (not always accidental and not often bemoaned by the invading carriers) of ‘white’ (or Old World) diseases that wiped out perhaps fifty-odd nations and 100 million human beings throughout North, South and Mesoamerica.

Try this line, p45 : ‘While Mesoamericans were cultivating corn and potatoes (and avocados, tomatoes, beans and about a hundred other plants we would be desolate without now) people on the other side of the planet were building the first cities.’ So too, Bill, were those self-same Mesoamericans. Reread Mann!

It may be that liberal white Americans of today carry some burden of guilt over this, the greatest ever holocaust in world history.

Still, Bryson is ALWAYS worth a read!

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