Bryson, Bill: In a Sunburned Country; A Short History of Nearly Everything (audio)

In a Sunburned Country is Bill Bryson’s Australia book. Bryson is probably best known for A Walk in the Woods, which is still my favorite of his books. In a Sunburned Country is much in the mode of his travel books generally: Bryson bops around the area he’s chosen, whether the Appalachian Trail or Australia, and offers up frequently-funny descriptions of his travels along with bits of social, economic, and political history.

As Chad has said offline, the problem with this book is that Bryson likes Australia too much. He explicitly says it’s part and parcel of his nostalgia for 1950s America, which I frankly distrust [*]; and that colors my reaction to his assertions about Australia’s recent immigration history, for instance (though to his credit he does discuss the history and current status of Australia’s aborigines). It wasn’t a major part of the book, and most of the time I was happy laughing about cricket or the very many ways you can get killed in Australia, but every now and again he’d go into nostalgia rapture and I would twitch.

[*] The xenophobic moment at the start of the book doesn’t help. Did he really say that after traveling so far, he instinctively expects “swarthy men in robes . . . and a real possibility of disease on everything you touch,” but instead is pleasantly surprised to find that “these people are just like you and me”? I’m afraid he really did. Ugh.

Australia still sounds like a very cool place, mind, and as soon as they invent reliable teleportation (and personal force-field shields to keep the spiders and snakes and so forth away), I’ll be there.

(I listened to this as an audiobook, read by the author. Other than the occasional dialogue that was a little too deadpan, and the footnotes that weren’t read (I’ve read it before), it was excellently done. I’m just annoyed that A Walk in the Woods is only available in abridged format read by Bryson; I know that book too well to listen to an abridged version, even if I cared for such things, but it would be wrong listening to anyone else narrating it.)

(I also have listened to part of A Short History of Nearly Everything on audio since then. It’s narrated by someone who has an unfortunately snooty British-accented voice, and I’m not in any hurry to get back to listening.)


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  1. hey there… I am a huge fan of Tamora Pierce’s work but my family deosnt have the money to buy them and there isn’t a library anywere around me so i miss out alot of the time. I was just around on the net looking for a net library.. like somewere that paid to have literature on their sites for people like me who could read it write off the site, for free. The site could be kept up by sponsors instead of the public. Anyways, let me know when you creat/find one

  2. (As I roll back through your log on a slow work day) In a sunburned country was the first Bryson I read, and all though it left me with an indelible impression that Bryson is actually James Nicoll in disguise. I almost wrote a review of it for rasfw on those grounds, in fact.

  3. James, that’s perfectly brilliant and I wish you had!

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