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A Guide to Bill Bryson’s Best Books

Expand your understanding of language, science, history, and the world by diving into these books by Bill Bryson.
by Michael Benninger | Jan 8 2020

If you’ve read any amount nonfiction over the past 30 years, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with Bill Bryson. Among today’s most prolific nonfiction authors, Bryson has penned more than 20 books about language, science, history, and his adventures traveling the globe.

Fueled by his insatiable curiosity, Bryson’s books are a testament to his love for knowledge and his ability to distill even the most complex topics into simple explanations anyone can understand. His latest work, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, hit shelves this past October, and in addition to becoming an instant New York Times bestseller, the Washington Post also hailed it as one of the year’s most notable nonfiction books.

If you’ve yet to discover the passion, humor, and enthusiasm with which Bill Bryson explores his topics, you’re in for a treat. To help you find your footing, here’s a glimpse of many of his most popular books, each of which is available in Blinkist’s library.

The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way (1990)

Many of us read, write, and speak in the English language from the moment we wake up each day. But have you ever paused to consider the source of all the words we use? By examining the origins of our vocabulary, Bill Bryson sheds light on the links between language and history and connects the dots between Western civilization and the way we communicate. Word nerds of all stripes will love this exploration of English and how, despite an onslaught of obstacles, the language has survived—and thrived—through the centuries.

Notes from a Small Island: An Affectionate Portrait of Britain (1995)

Although Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1951, he moved to Great Britain in his early 20s and has since spent most of his adult life living “across the pond.” In 1995, however, he moved back to the US, and while preparing for the relocation, he penned Notes from a Small Island, a fond farewell to the country that had been his home for the past two decades. Through commentary on the country’s people, geography, and idiosyncrasies, Bryson serves as a tour guide to British culture with an abundance of unique insights about his adopted home.

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail (1997)

Upon returning to the United States after 20 years abroad, Bryson realized that his new home in New Hampshire stood a mere stone’s throw from the famed Appalachian Trail, which spans 2,200 miles along the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. An avid outdoorsman, Bryson decided to attempt the hike, and he was joined by Stephen Katz, an old friend from school. This book, which is part memoir and part ode to North America’s nature, details the pair’s journey, and it was later adapted into a film starring Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as Katz.

In a Sunburned Country (2000)

Among Bill Bryson’s other excursions abroad, he thoroughly explored the continent of Australia with stops in major metropolises and tiny mining towns alike. In this travelogue about his time “down under,” Bryson paints a picture of a multidimensional country that’s home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural wonders. From deserts to rainforests to the Great Barrier Reef, this book is bursting with insight into not only the country’s vast geography but also its culture, history, and people.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)

Perhaps Bill Bryson’s most well-known book, A Short History of Nearly Everything serves as a stark departure from his writing about countries and their culture, as he instead turns his attention toward some of the biggest mysteries of our age: how did the universe begin and how did humans get here? By breaking esoteric elements of astrophysics into fundamental concepts anyone can wrap their head around, Bryson reveals the secrets of our universe and our place in it, while he also reminds us that despite everything we’ve discovered, much remains unknown.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life (2010)

Have you ever stopped to wonder why our homes are constructed the way they are? In this look at the history behind our habitats, Bill Bryson guides readers—room by room—through the stories of our living spaces and how they came to be. Find out how bathrooms evolved into their present-day form and why kitchens are designed like they are in most households. Discover interesting facts about each room, and learn how the definition of “home” has taken on new meaning over time.

One Summer: America, 1927 (2013)

Although many Americans might not realize it today, the world we now live in was largely shaped by events that occurred over the course of a mere three months back in 1927. During this time, American was more prosperous than ever before, yet the nation also had its issues. In this book, Bryson unveils how, from foreshadowing the Great Depression to ensuring America’s dominance as a world power, this short period transformed the world into the one we know—both for better and for worse.

The Body: A Guide for Occupants (2019)

In his latest book, Bill Bryson puts the human body under the microscope, examining the many fascinating facets of our physiology. Find out how your diet affects your mood, how your body knows when it’s time to sleep, and how you wouldn’t be able to survive without the trillions of microbes living in and on you. From the blood flowing through our veins to the neurons firing in our brains, Bryson explains the roles of bodies’ organs and systems from head to toe, inside and out.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of these Bill Bryson books, Blinkist’s library includes all of the above titles along with thousands of other nonfiction books by today’s top authors. So what will you choose to learn next?

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