Rating: 9.0/10

My Summary:

A fantastic history book. Bryson weaves in stories from the last 500 years, covering any topic imaginable. The book is structured by the author strolling through each room of his 1800s British farm house, and then writing about the historical significance of the room. The chapter on the Crystal Palace is especially enjoyable. I constantly found myself bringing up interesting tidbits from the book, sparking fascinating conversations with friends.


What discontents, what dire events, From trifling things proceed? A little Tea, thrown in the Sea, Has thousands caused to bleed.

‘A messenger is often sent from one end of the table to the other to announce to Mr B—— that Mr A—— wishes to take wine with him; whereupon each, sometimes with considerable trouble, catches the other’s eye . . . When you raise your glass, you look fixedly at the one with whom you are drinking, bow your head, and then drink with great gravity.’

No one, other than perhaps the Luftwaffe, has done more to change the look of London than John Nash did over the next thirty years. [Nash the British architect, not the mathematician]

[Thomas Edison’s idea for concrete houses] The plan was to make a mould of a complete house into which concrete could be poured in a continuous flow, forming not just walls and floors but every interior structure – baths, toilets, sinks, cabinets, doorjambs, even picture frames. Apart from a few odds and ends like doors and light switches,

Mice and other rodents consume about a tenth of America’s annual grain crop – an astonishing proportion.

Stairs rank as the second most common cause of accidental death, well behind car accidents but far ahead of drownings, burns and other similarly grim misfortunes.

To thwart robbers, the poor in particular often held on to the bodies of departed loved ones until they had begun to putrefy and so had lost their value.

Header photo © uwaterloo.ca
Body photo © telegraph.co.uk