Book Review: At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson

Few things in life are more delightful than discovering and reading a truly good book, and, on the flip side, few things are more depressing than finishing one. I have just experienced both...

My latest read was At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, and I have to say, it was one of the most enjoyable and interesting books I've read in quite some time.

The premise of the book is fairly simple: while wandering through the Victorian parsonage where he and his family reside in England, Bryson struck upon the idea that he really knew very little about the everyday items surrounding him in his own home, and how they came to be there. The result was this completely fascinating book. The author takes us on a tour of his home, room by room, and gives us a history of the world in the process.

For instance, the kitchen provides us with a history of nutrition and the spice trade, the bathroom a history of personal hygiene, the fuse box a history of electricity and the connection it has to - of all things - whale hunting, the dressing room a history of clothing and textiles, etc. It's a trivia lover's dream. From architecture to food preservation, from plagues to lawn mowers, from the Industrial Revolution to a World War II experiment using bats as secret weapons that went terribly, horribly wrong, Bryson demonstrates how the entire history of the world, in one form or another, ends up in our houses.

Along with the array of colorful incidents from history, Bryson also brings a lively style and quick wit to the table. Although the author is American by birth, the wry British sense of humor has certainly rubbed off on him. My favorite line from Chapter 1 describing the rector who originally built his home perfectly captures the dry humor and tone of the book:

" As for where Mr. Marsham fit into all this, there's simply no telling. If it was his goal in life to make as little impression as possible upon history, he achieved it gloriously." 

Bryson makes history both accessible, relatable, and thoroughly entertaining. I wish this guy had written my history textbooks in college - they would have been infinitely more interesting.

In spite of my enthusiasm for the book overall, I do feel obliged to throw in a couple of small disclaimers.

Although he sticks with mostly cut-and-dry facts, Bryson is certainly writing from a secular perspective. He clearly believes in the theory of evolution and dismisses the Biblical accounts of Creation and history as old fashioned and unscientific, despite the fact that there is plenty of scientific evidence to support them.

He also, at times, is a bit crude (or I suppose one could argue that history has often been crude). For instance, in the history of the bedroom, he gives some brief but graphic descriptions of the history of people's habits and attitudes regarding sex, women's health and anatomy, etc. Other sections deal with rather gross aspects of history, for instance, the history of sewers (and some of the disasters that led to their modern development), and the history of dealing with death, epidemics, etc. So be forewarned.

Overall, it's a thoroughly entertaining and informative book, and I highly recommend it. I will definitely be adding more of Bryson's books to my reading list...


So, what's on your nightstand? Are you reading another great book? If so, please let me know in the comments; I'm building a stockpile of books to take to the beach with me next month, and I'd love to have your recommendations! 

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate, and if you shop through the link above (click on the book), I supposedly make a small amount of money, although at this point in my career as an Amazon Associate, is merely a dreamy rumor. However, if you do so, I thank you. Consider yourself disclosed. 


The List that Never Ends: # 641-650

Wow, I just realized I have been a total slacker lately when it comes to this blog! My birding blog and a few other projects have been keeping me pretty occupied. However, today's the day to remedy that situation, and it's just in time for another installment of my list of "One Thousand Gifts." So here we go...

Today, I am thanking God....

# 641. ... for a fun and relaxing getaway to Hilton Head last weekend.

# 642. ... for the opportunity to see my dream bird, a painted bunting, in the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge on our trip (along with a flock of other beautiful birds). God is so creative! (Well, duh, Beth.)  

# 643. ... that American Anhingas even exist, and that He clearly has a sense of humor. (Doesn't it look like it belongs in a Muppets movie?)

# 644. ... for some quality time with Josh's grandmother and step-grandfather.

# 645. ... for the hilarious and completely random banter that flies around our Bible study group.

# 646. ... for finding new shorts that fit well, on sale, no less.

# 647. ... for the delightful combination of water, sand, sun, a comfy beach chair, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a truly good book. My favorite elements of vacation....

# 648. ... for awesome sights like these...

# 649. ... for the laws, law enforcement officers, and military that keep this country a relatively safe place to live, compared with the horror that's going on in many other places in the world. (We really need to pray for peace and safety for the people living in places like Sudan... we take so much for granted here.)

# 650. ... that He is a God of both justice AND mercy...

Joining Ann today...


Quotables: G. K. Chesterton

"This is My Father's World" by Beth Stone.
Prints, cards, and jewelry featuring this piece available HERE.

"The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world."
- G. K. Chesterton


The List that Never Ends: # 631-640

Thanking God today...

# 631. ... that our yard sale is DONE, and that the bins of random junk that have been sitting around my house for the last 3+ months are GONE!

# 632. ... for fun times birding with Josh and our nephews.

# 633. ... for aloe vera, lip balm, and lotion for sunburned skin and lips.

# 634. ... for my aunt Jeanie and uncle Bruce, who always make family parties more fun. (Happy Birthday yesterday, Jeanie!)

# 635. ... that my church family members, although we don't always agree on everything, still love each other and serve Christ together and can disagree on certain issues graciously.

# 636. ... for the opportunity to have a front-row view of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who are doing an excellent job raising their kids.

# 637. ... for the hilarious sounds my dog makes sometimes.

# 638. ... for yet another of Josh's rotations successfully finished.

# 639. ... for some definitive answers about where we'll be next year.

# 640. ... that no matter how uncertain the future seems, it's really not, because God knows what's going to happen and has it all under control.

Joining Ann today at:


Another Happy Accident

Apparently, I cannot be trusted with bleach.

Maybe I should start wearing something like this on cleaning & laundry days...


Today was my laundry day, and doggone if I didn't do it again.... I looked down after doing my load of whites to find a spot of bleach on yet another brand-new shirt. Ugh.

The offending splash hit towards the bottom of the shirt this time, so I had to come up with a design that would cover it without looking odd... I decided to go with a tree. I drew a design in chalk, then used a Clorox Bleach Pen to apply the bleach gel. (No toilet bowl cleaner this time - I decided to go with the pen in order to save my paint brushes!) I let it dry about 30 minutes, then gave it a rinse in the sink and washed it with a load of darks...

Here's the result - the color is the most accurate in the first picture below...

I applied the bleach "streakily" on purpose - it created a cool woodgrain effect... (the grain shows up better in person, but you can kind of make it out below...)

So there you have it, another shirt saved from the trash pile....and I almost like it better this way!However, I think from now on, I'm going to make sure I'm wearing white when I go near anything containing bleach!

Hope you're having a lovely week!


The List that Never Ends: # 621-630

Last Saturday, Josh and I drove to a local park to feed my latest obsession hobby, birding. After spotting some amazing little cliff swallows, we were driving home, and Josh asked me what it was about birding that I liked so much.
After thinking for a minute, I told him this:
I like it because it's like a treasure hunt. On any given day, you can go outside and be surrounded by dozens of different kinds of birds - each with its own unique look, song, habits, and personality. They're all different and amazing, and most of the time, we don't even notice them.
My brother-in-law, whose family is also participating in our "Not-So-Big-Year," echoed the same sentiments about birding at church on Sunday.  He compared it to God's goodness and greatness - we are constantly surrounded by reminders of both, but we often miss noticing them because we're distracted by the day-to-day cares and concerns of our own lives.

The picture you see here is of a Black-and-White Warbler. He was perched high in the top of a tree right next to our driveway. He was visible for about 2 seconds (when I snapped this picture with a telephoto lens), and then he was gone. I had never seen one before in my life, and I haven't seen one since. But I saw it that day, because I was looking for it.

How many times do we miss seeing the blessings of God because we're not looking for them? It's very, very easy to get caught up in all of the negatives of life... believe me, I know. But every day, there are hundreds and thousands of ways that God is showing us His mercy and goodness, and when you begin to look for them, you'll find them.

Birding is a fun hobby, but it's also a discipline. You have to be quiet, still, patient, and observant. You have to be faithful - you may look in the same place 500 times before seeing a new bird there. Sometimes you have to change your perspective, clean your lenses, or try again another day. When I took a vertebrate field biology class in college, we went birding twice a week at the crack of dawn. On beautiful spring days when it was warm and sunny, it was a lot of fun. But before that, there were many cold, wet, and miserable winter days when trudging around in the mud or snow looking for birds was the last thing I felt like doing. But we did it anyway, and I saw some birds that I never would have seen in warmer weather.

Keeping this list has been a similar discipline for me. At times, when things are good and "all's right with the world," it's easy to add ten or so items to the list of things for which I'm thankful. However, on darker days, it takes a little more thought. But that's a good thing.... Looking for God's blessings in the dark times shows us not only that God is good regardless of our current circumstances, but also that He is at work even in and through the bad things in our lives and will ultimately use them for our good...

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." - Romans 8:28

And so, I continue to count...

Thanking God today...

# 621. ... for the lessons all around us in His creation, if we just take the time to stop and take note of them.
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse..." - Romans 1:20
# 622. ... for what I'm learning about God, specifically through birds at the moment...
"Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?" - Luke 12:24

"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows." - Matthew 10: 29-31
# 623. ... for visual reminders of the power of encouragement and helping others, and the way God comes alongside us and carries us when we fall.
# 624. ... for  a new engagement for two friends and a new job for another friend, and a fun night out to celebrate both.
# 625. ... for a husband who's bouncy and funny in the morning and makes encourages me to get up early (I'm a pretty incorrigible night owl, but I'm working on it.).

# 626. ... for the funny little calls of Eastern Screech Owls. 
# 627. ... for sun, fresh air, a beautiful place to live, and the health to enjoy it all.
# 628. ... for my birding buddy.

# 629. ...that I was able to get Harvey out from under the shed when he got stuck under there chasing some wild animal last night.
# 630. ... for Black-and-White Warblers.

Joining Ann today... (a day late)