Monday, November 16, 2015

[Book Review] At Home by Bill Bryson


Marilyn reviews AT HOME: A SHORT HISTORY OF PRIVATE LIFE by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, 2010)
Have you ever questioned why England so powerfully influenced our private lives and where our social customs originated? Have you ever wondered what foods, plants, and building materials the British Empire, which ruled the oceans, brought into our lives? At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson explores the changes in our houses and cities that the British Empire invented or nurtured.  
Bryson, who lives in an English Victorian Parsonage, takes us on a tour of his home. The tour is not a personal tour of a home, but a history of the decorations, furnishings, and the customs of each room. The book is a journey through the history of the ordinary things in our lives that we, many times, take for granted. The reader discovers the forgotten designers, events, and social customs that shape our private lives.
I especially enjoyed the chapters, “The Dining Room” and “The Garden”. Bryson details how our dining customs evolved as new foods came to British tables. The Dining Room came about because guests would wipe their hands on the expensive upholstered furniture.  As a teenager, I wondered where our dining customs came from and how we discovered spices from others lands. This chapter answered many of my questions and allowed me to explore trade routes of the British Empire.
In the chapter entitled “The Garden” I discovered the origins of modern landscaping and the native habitats of many garden plants. I also learned about Fredrick Olmstead, whose sons (The Olmstead Brothers) would design the Memphis Tennessee Park System. Many plants that the British found in their empire would be transported to England and the United States.  Many of these plants now inhabit the parks, lawns, and gardens of Memphis, Tennessee.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson is a wonderful source for answers to the origins of our building materials, clothing, customs, food, and furnishings.
Marilyn Umfress, Central Library

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