At Home Book Summary - At Home Book explained in key points
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At Home summary

Bill Bryson

A Short History of Private Life

3.9 (137 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

'At Home' by Bill Bryson offers a fascinating insight into the history of daily life at home. From the invention of bed to the evolutionary quirks hiding in modern kitchens, Bryson examines the objects we take for granted revealing how they changed the way we live.

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    At Home
    Summary of 6 key ideas

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    Soldiers once needed to shoot cans open to get at the food inside; in general, food safety was lax.

    Nearly every modern Western kitchen has a cupboard stacked high with a colorful array of cans, filled with foods from olives to peaches to peas.

    Yet people didn’t always have such easy access to healthy, non-perishable foods. How to preserve food to last through a winter, say, was once a big challenge for families.

    In the late eighteenth century, a Frenchman named Francois Appert proposed storing food in glass jars.

    Appert’s idea was a huge breakthrough at the time simply because the alternatives were poor. Unfortunately, however, the glass jars didn’t seal well, meaning that air and bacteria could contaminate the food.

    In the early nineteenth century, an Englishman named Bryan Donkin came up with the sealed metal can. He made his cans from wrought iron, however, which was exceedingly heavy and difficult to open.

    Just how difficult? Well, some cans came with instructions on how to break them open with a hammer and chisel. Soldiers issued canned food as rations would have to shoot the can or stab it with a bayonet to get at the food inside!

    Later cans were produced from lighter materials but were still difficult to open; that is, until 1925 when the can opener was invented.

    So while inventors were working on more efficient ways to preserve and consume food from a can, a hungry public was plagued by another problem: food adulteration. In the food industry in the seventeenth century, this was common practice; and as there was little official oversight, no consumer could be completely sure what exactly he or she was eating.

    Sugar was commonly “cut” with gypsum, sand or even dust. Tea was often a mix of tea leaves, dust or dirt. Vinegar was “complemented” by sulphuric acid; chalk was a common additive in milk.

    Today, luckily, governments enforce food standards, and for the most part, we know what we’re putting in our mouths!

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    What is At Home about?

    At Home (2010) offers an in-depth look at the history of the home. These blinks walk you through stories that each “take place” in a different room in a house, explaining the history of spaces such as a bathroom or kitchen. Interestingly, you’ll explore how each space evolved into the rooms we live in today.

    At Home Review

    At Home (2010) takes readers on a fascinating journey through the history of our homes, uncovering surprising stories and insights. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Packed with intriguing facts and anecdotes, it sheds light on the everyday objects we often take for granted, transforming our understanding of the spaces we inhabit.
    • Exploring various aspects of home life, from architecture to food, the book offers a comprehensive and thought-provoking look at how our domestic lives have evolved over time.
    • With his witty and insightful narrative, Bill Bryson keeps the reader engaged and entertained throughout, making even the most mundane details of home life come alive.

    Best quote from At Home

    …the woods that greeted the newcomers were not quite as boundless as they first appeared…

    —Bill Bryson
    example alt text

    Who should read At Home?

    • Students of sociology, anthropology and history
    • People with an interest in the history of domestic life

    About the Author

    Bill Bryson is an author of many bestselling books, on topics ranging from science to language and travel. He previously worked as a journalist and chief copy editor at British newspapers The Times and The Independent. His other titles include Notes from a Small Island (1995) and A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003).

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    At Home FAQs 

    What is the main message of At Home?

    Discover the fascinating history and hidden stories behind the everyday objects and rooms in our homes.

    How long does it take to read At Home?

    The estimated reading time for At Home is several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is At Home a good book? Is it worth reading?

    At Home is a captivating read that offers insights into the history and significance of everyday objects. It's definitely worth reading!

    Who is the author of At Home?

    The author of At Home is Bill Bryson.

    What to read after At Home?

    If you're wondering what to read next after At Home, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
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    • The Fate of Rome by Kyle Harper
    • The Art of Positive Thinking by Elizabeth R. Brown
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