Saturday, August 18, 2012

At Home - A Short History of Private Life

Author:       Bill Bryson
Published   2010
Publisher:   Transworld Publishers
Hardcover:  548 pages. 
  By from  
We take many common place things around us in our homes for granted. How many of us are really curious to know the history behind them ?  The author Bill Bryson was one for sure.  One day as he looked around in his house he was "startled and a little appalled" to realize how little he know about the domestic world around him. He started wondering about the reasons underlying  many trivial things - why of all spices in the world only salt and pepper are found on every dining table? Why a fork has four prongs not three or five ? Why suit jackets have a row of pointless buttons on every sleeve? When people talk about paying for board and room, what is that board ? The house was suddenly a mysterious place for him.As he wandered from room to room in his house, he realized that rooms in any house are intimately connected to the history of private life. For e.g. bathroom would be a history of hygiene; the kitchen of cooking, the bedroom of sex and death and sleeping. This realization inspired him to write this book.
While doing his research for this book he was surprised to find that "whatever happens in the world - whatever is discovered or created or bitterly fought over - eventually ends up, in one way or another in your house". So houses are not refuges from history but a places where history ends up.
This book covers the commerce, architecture, technology and geography that have shaped homes into what they are today, told through a series of "tours" through an old rectory in Norfolk that quickly digress into the history of each room for e.g. the hall, kitchen, drawing room, dining room, bedroom, bathroom and the things found in these rooms. There is a chapter dedicated to each of these rooms and the summary of these chapters can be found in the Wikipedia entry about this book.
A very interesting , educative and entertaining book written with ample doses of wit and humor. I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading Bill Bryson's more well known book viz; A Short History of Nearly Everything