Notes from a Small Island

ISBN: 0380727501
ISBN 13: 9780380727506
By: Bill Bryson

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About this book

"Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain-which is to say, all of it." After nearly two decades spent on British soil, Bill Bryson-bestsellingauthor of The Mother Tongue and Made in America-decided to returnto the United States. ("I had recently read," Bryson writes, "that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another,so it was clear that my people needed me.") But before departing, he set out ona grand farewell tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home.Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes from a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey. The result is an uproarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain, from the satiric pen of an unapologetic Anglophile.

Reader's Thoughts


Let's all take a moment and be thankful that, whenever someone decides to move back to their home country, they don't decide to take a final whirlwind tour and write a book about it.That's what Bill did here. It's once around England and then back to America!Don't get me wrong: Bill Bryson can be very funny at times. Absolutely.I just think he needed a better situation to employ his wit. The humor comes through, but not often enough to make this book notable. I actually want to forget it quickly, and don't think this will be a problem.Most of Bill's humor is clouded over by observations about architecture. He liked some of it and abhored most of it, and because he is flying about the place, there is little else for him to experience beyond that and whether or not he 1. Had a decent hotel for one night or 2. Ate something decent for brekky/luncheon/din-dins.Dull, Bill.What's missing are human interactions. None of any depth take place so there is little soul sandwiched between the front and back covers of this effort. Recent travels have convinced me that travel itself suffers greatly if you don't meet interesting people along the way, and that's what this book suffers from: a lack of interesting interactions with people. Question: What is Britain without its eccentrics?Answer: "Notes from a Small Island".


Bryson is like a lazy armchair traveler that actually gets up and goes to all of those places that we think we should see and usually don't. Unlike brisk capable travel writers like Rick Steves or Paul Theroux, Bryson seems more like us. He's a Goldilocks whining about soup that is too hot or the bed is too hard. Since he has such a critical sometimes whiny eye, when he does find the right fit like Edinburgh or Salisbury, I know I would love it too. The railway details got a bit dense but, overall it was delicious honey in a big steaming cup of Anglophile tea.

Rena Jane

Bill Bryson's books always make me feel as though I've been introduced to the most interesting and enjoyable parts of wherever he takes me. This one was no different.Bryson drinks his fill, and occasionally to excess in pubs all over England and Scotland as he takes a farewell walking tour of his adopted Great Britian. His humor and compelling descriptions put you almost into the book with him. He tours famous museums, as well as little, off-road, seldom visited sites that we should all give a chance. He also rates the establishments he sleeps in, usually good, but he's afraid to be honest when he chances about a dive.The nostalgia he feels at leaving his adopted home comes through, also as he muses on how seldom he's visited some of these sites, and how worthy some are of repeated visits. Others, that have been touted for years as "must-see's" he gives short shrift, since in his opinion, they do not stand up to their glorified reputations.I enjoyed this book, and will probably reread it one day, especially if I ever have the good fortune to visit the Emerald Isles.

James Murphy

Bill Bryson knows that absurdity is present in everybody and can be found in almost every situation if you try to find it. He also knows absurdity is mostly lovable. And so Notes from a Small Island chronicles Bryson's tour of Britain from Dover to Glasgow, traveling generally north and almost always by public transport, not in search of the absurd but certainly quick to point it out. There's plenty to draw the reader's attention to, though what he sees as absurd he likes and is more than willing to accept. Bryson also knows a nation is its people. He writes about the English people with great warmth and affection while at the same time being aware of their eccentricities. He loves what he sees, too. He takes time to visit the sites individual towns and regions are noted for, whether it's Stonehenge or the Ashmolean in Oxford or Princes Street in Edinburgh. All along the way he has interesting things to say about almost everything Britain is famous or notorious for, including British weather, British food, the congeniality of British pubs, British Rail. In the end he's full of praise for a country responsible for cricket, pork pies, Christopher Wren, and the chocolate digestive biscuit. All those things and more Britain has given us, he writes, but they also had the farsightedness to create a comprehensive welfare state and to efficiently dismantle an empire. Nearing the end of his journey, alone again on a train gliding through the Midlands, he closes the book with a paean to a characteristic of Britain he feels is undervalued, the bucolic nature and astonishing beauty of the countryside. Bryson is absurdly in love with Britain.


Inhalt:Nach fast zwanzig Jahren in England will Reise-Autor Bill Bryson mit seiner Familie in sein Heimatland, die USA, zurückziehen. Doch bevor es so weit ist beschließt er noch einmal via Bus und Bahn durch das Land zu reisen, das ihn so fasziniert hatte, um sich gebührend von dem Land zu verabschieden, das so lange sein zu Hause gewesen ist. Gesagt, getan und so begibt sich der reiselustige Bryson auf eine abenteuerliche Odyssee.Meinung:Im Zuge eines Universitätskurses musste ich mir ein Buch aussuchen, das ich über das Semester verteilt lesen würde. Ich entschied mich für dieses Buch, da ich von dem Autor schon zwei andere Bücher gelesen hatte und seinen Sinn für schwarzen Humor und Sarkasmus sehr zu schätzen wusste und mir somit einiges erwartete. Ich muss jedoch gestehen, dass er meine Erwartungen nicht durchgehend erfüllte. Es gab viele Stellen, wo ich lachen und schmunzeln musste, doch genauso oft musste ich leider die Stirn runzeln. Bryson rutscht teilweise mit seinem Sarkasmus und Zynismus in die Arroganz ab und bewertet Dinge von einer zu hohen Warte aus. Nichtsdestotrotz ergibt das gesamte Buch ein liebenswertes Bild der Briten, bestätigt diverse Vorurteile und lässt sie einen doch immer tiefer ins Herz schließen – auch wenn sie ihren Tee schändlicher Weise mit Milch trinken und viel zu tiefe Gefühle für Hecken haben.

Lisa Vegan

It took me forever to read this because I was constantly picking it up and putting it down, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because it’s one of those books where it works to read it in this way, and I read so many other books during the times I took breaks from reading this book.Sometimes I just don’t like Bill Bryson as a man. There’s a smattering of things he writes that are cruel, crass, and otherwise makes him unappealing to me, and he sure drinks a lot of beer, but the nasty material is a tiny minority of the book’s content. He’s basically a likeable and interesting guy who is an explorer, much of it done via walking, and he has a refreshing sense of what constitutes adventure.He’s a skilled writer. He’s very, very funny; I laughed out loud and chuckled many times.I’ve always wanted to go to Britain so for me this was a bit of armchair traveling. Unfortunately, much of this book made me wish I’d visited the place (and most other places) at least a few decades ago. Bryson makes clear the homogenization that’s taken place at various British locales, and this book was written 15 years ago so who knows what he’d say now. I’d still love to go but I’d skip some of his destinations. He also writes much about the history of his destinations and I found most of the information fascinating.One thing that tickled my funny bone is that when he was in one small English town, he saw the old “This is Cinerama” movie, a movie I remember from my childhood, and brought me right back to the United States of America. I hadn’t realized the movie was already old the first time that I saw it, but I do remember loving that film and other Cinerama movies.There’s a glossary of English (vs. American English) words in the back of the book. Given that I’m a bit of an Anglophile, I already knew the definition of most of the words, but having it in the book was a fun touch.

Lora Grigorova

Notes from a Small Island: two months I will say goodbye to the UK after having spent nearly 3 years here. To say that I am sad will be an exaggeration. However, to say that I will not miss it is just plainly unfair. After all, the UK has taught me several important life lessons, which I will never forget soon:1. How to pass an exam, when you haven’t attended a single lecture and you have two days to learn everything2. Yes, it is possible to be rainy and windy 364 days of the year.3. Never be surprised when a total stranger calls you “love” or “mate”.4. “Cheers” is the ultimate word. It can substitute absolutely anything you want to say.5. Cider is cheep and fairly disgusting6. Burger&Chips CAN be a national dish.7. You can always start smoking after you have successfully passed the “wanna be” phase of your life (in my case you can start smoking not at 13 but at 20).If you feel a sense of bitterness, irony, and sarcasm…well you are absolutely right. To be honest, I don’t only have bad memories from my time here. Of course, I am now expected to share that my life abroad has made me more responsible, more organized, and more self-sufficient. Well, it did. It is quite obvious. Leaving the comfort of your home behind, where your mum and dad take care of every disgusting chore and moving on to live by yourself, having to learn how to cook, wash your clothes, manage your finances, etc will ultimately transform you from a careless teen into a mature individual. It is not the UK that did this. It is merely the living abroad, which could have happened in exactly every other country.However, I have two things to be thankful to the UK. Firstly, I started this blog here. I realized how much I love books and how much pleasure dedicating time to reading and writing gives me. Secondly, I realized I want to write a book about my life (I wouldn’t have anything to write about if it wasn’t for the UK but that is another issue). So, England, this is my big thank you for releasing my literary talent and for giving it a subject to write about.Maybe sensing my feelings towards his home country, my flatmate provided me with a book to change my opinion (or at least attempt to do so). After spending nearly 20 years on the island, Bill Bryson (a born American) is about to leave it for good and move to live with his family in the US. Feeling nostalgia, the author decides to take a journey around the fields of England starting from the south and finishing in the north. Bryson enters the UK through Dover, the same way he did in the distant 1970s and starts a trip, visiting not only every major UK city, but also going to relatively unknown places and villages. The book is funny, entertaining, and clever. It is not merely a trip through the fields of UK, it is a trip through a whole life time. There is as much about England and its miracles as about Bryson and his life. The author is sarcastic and funny; his elaboration on the Britons and on their island is straight to the point. The author not only describes the absolutely astonishing parts of England; he also attempts to draw a rather comprehensive picture of its public face. What are the key characteristics of the Britons? What made them so? What transformed some prosperous industrial towns into deserted and isolated places? What makes the green green grass of the UK so lovable? Bryson answers all of these answers from his own perspective, as an immigrant for almost 20 years. His imagination, sense of humour, and wittiness make Notes from a Small Island more than a road trip book. They actually make it a guide to understanding England. When I read it, I kept thinking “This is absolutely the way it is”.Read more:


Brilliant! Insightful and very funny, Bryson nails the oddities of British culture. At times, he seems a little too impressed by his own cleverness, but he also has a knack for making me feel very nostalgic for my favorite bits of Britain. A must for anybody who is intimately familiar with British geography and culture."To this day, I remain impressed by the ability of Britons of all ages and social backgrounds to get genuinely excited by the prospect of a hot beverage." ~ Bill Bryson


My manager in DC gave me this book before I left for London - and it was freakin hysterical to read. The author was basically reiterating all the thoughts I had while I was there, living amongst the Brits, diciphering the weird accents, and travelling around the countrysides on the weekends. Bryson has a comical and sarcastic tone throughout (like a true American) and he mainly complained the whole time he was there. But in the end, he was grateful (greatful?) to have had that experience, and I completely agree. I just wish I had the talent to put those very thoughts into such a clever package. But alas, I kinda suck at writing.

Dan Holmes

I found parts of this book to be laugh out loud funny. I was however, put off by the author's incessant complaining and mean spirited behavior. I read the book in advance to a trip to Britain so it was fun to gain some insight and perspective about differences between our cultures and changes happening within the UK. I may read more of Bryson's books because he can be very funny indeed and is a good writer. My hope is that his other books are less mean spirited and better balance his curmudgeonly rants with his funnier, lighthearted writing.

Carl Nelson

3.5 stars. Parts of it were beautiful portraits of a lovely country and its optimistic, polite inhabitants, written in masterful prose by an author with a gift for conveying the feeling of time and place. Other parts were pithy and witty observations of a likable curmudgeon in a culture that doesn't always make sense to an outsider. Other parts are smug, self-satisfied smartassery.I really enjoyed Bryson's depictions of the people he encountered, as he brought back very fond memories of my solo trip there when I was only a year or so out of college and the universal warmth with which the British and Welsh treated me. I found his descriptions of the landscape to be compelling, painting vivid mental imagery. The narrative was frequently repetitive: Bryson arrives in town X, finds substandard accommodations for the evening, reflects on how the town's glory days are long past, observes how the modern buildings are far uglier than the old ones they replaced, then finds comfort in the basic decency of its people and British-ness of the town. The parts I enjoyed least were of the "this town isn't something I personally like, so I can't see how anyone would like it, so I'm going to feel superior to it and its inhabitants" sort, and I didn't care for those.After reading and enjoying other Bryson volumes, I was really looking forward to this one, and I was sad to find this one to be a mixed bag. Too much of this book is about Bryson and his peccadillos (of which some are rather annoying) and too little about his subject, a mistake that many travel writers make.


A tremendously humorous love letter from the author to his adopted country of England. Bryson takes a walking tour of England prior to returning to the U.S., and fondly skewers everything from the architecture to the food to the relentlessly polite and proper Brits themselves.Having spent a fair amount of time in London, perhaps it spoke to me more deeply then someone not as familiar with the culture, but it is one of the few books I can recall that made me laugh out loud.Bryson is adept and clever, with a penchant for remarkable turn of phrase. Although the descriptions of the smaller towns and villages in this travelogue have a tendency to tedium (there are so many of them!), you never know where you might find a jewel of language hidden.And he spares us not his opinions, nor his frustrations, which are nevertheless expressed with self-deprecating good humor.Thoroughly enjoyable and recommended for a light and entertaining read.


Before returning to his native United States after a sojourn of some twenty years in England, Bryson decided to take a trip around that "small island." The hysterical comments in this book are the result. The British loved it so much it was a best-seller for months, and they turned it into a TV series. The book even includes a glossary of English terms. For example, do you know the difference between a village and a hamlet? One is a small town where people live, the other a play by Shakespeare!Bryson is certainly not your average travel writer - as anyone who has read my reviews of his other books knows - and despite his often scathing wit, it's never done with malice, even when very critical of a subject. What astounds me is Bryson's vigor and willingness to put up with all sorts of cold and wet weather. He made his trek during the off-season, i.e., late October, not an especially delightful time of year in Britain. He did not take a car, relying solely on buses and British Rail, a decision that often forced him to make long, out-of-the-way walks of as far as twenty miles, either because schedules didn'tcoincide, or the irregular bus did not run during the off-season.He delightfully intermingles political commentary with travelogue. He visits Blackpool, for example, where there are long beaches - that officially don't exist. "I am not making this up. In the late 1980s, when the European Community issued a directive about the standards of ocean-borne sewage, it turned out that nearly every British seaside town failed to come anywhere near even the minimum compliance levels. Most of the bigger resorts like Blackpool went right off the edge of the turdometer, or whatever they measure these things with. This presented an obvious problem to Mrs. Thatcher's government, which was loath to spend money on British beaches when there were perfectly good beaches in Mustique and Barbados, so it drew up an official decree -- this is so bizarre I can hardly stand it, but I swear it is true -- that Brighton, Blackpool, Scarborough, and many other leading resorts did not have, strictly speaking, beaches. Christ knows what it then termed these expanses of sand -- intermediate sewage buffers, I suppose -- but in any case it disposed of the problem without either solving it or costing the treasury a penny, which is of course the main thing, or in the case of the present government, the only thing."Then there's British Rail. On his way to Manchester, "we crept a mile or so out of the station, then sat for a long time for no evident reason. Eventually, a voice announced that because of faults further up the line this train would terminate in Stockport, which elicited a general groan. Finally, after about twenty minutes, the train falteringly started forward and limped across the green countryside. At each station the voice apologized for the delay and announced anew that the train would terminate in Stockport. When at last we reached Stockport, ninety minutes late, I expected everyone to get off, but no one moved, so neither did I. Only one passenger, a Japanese fellow, dutifully disembarked, then watched in dismay as the train proceeded on, without explanation and without him, to Manchester." No Bryson should be left unread.


My first exposure to Bill Bryson was "A Walk In The Woods" which is about his desire to leave modern America behind and go for a stroll along the Appalachian Trail. I love that book and found it to be hysterical and at other times very sensible in his commentary about the world around us."Notes From A Small Island" also reflects his desire to stroll through countrysides and insert some social commentary about the communities he encounters. But this time his location is Great Britain and it is a farewell tour of the country he called his home for over 20 years.Not being British and having never been to any part of Britain I must admit I was at a total loss for many of the references he makes about the culture (pop to political) and the language. I constantly felt like a bit of an outsider listening in to some great inside jokes that flew right over my head.But the sections where he described human nature in general, or the portions about Scotland where I did have some personal frame of reference thanks to a Scottish roommate in college, I found to be very funny and entertaining. It is obvious this book was written about Britain for a British audience and because of it I had a nice descriptive tour of the geography, the people and, of course, the wet weather.I was a little surprised by the sudden brash insertions of vulgarity and showy tell-offs of people who happened to annoy him. I don't really recall that style from my reading of "A Walk In The Woods" but maybe I just don't remember it because I was laughing too hard. I swear myself all the time so it wasn't offensive personally, but it felt like it was thrown in there purposefully to fit in or something.I also tired of his constant criticism of the architectural horrors - even though I agree with his frustration and anger about it. Just hammered that point a little too often for my tastes. I get it - stupid architects destroyed pieces of history left and right for shopping plazas which is blasphemy. More about the human interest please, which he writes very well.Overall the book was an easy read that could be picked up and put down without problem so it would be great to read on a commute or in between other books. It was entertaining enough but I would recommend more for people not completely clueless like me about Britain - the humor would be appreciated much more.


Bill Bryson is on tour on Britain and funnier than ever. The way he describes the british people, towns and way of life as an outsider and insider(since he lived there at the time) is delightful, witty and very clever. great book !

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