Thursday, June 23, 2011

Read-alike Guides - Bill Bryson

If you like the witty, informative works of Bill Bryson, you might enjoy one of these books:

Blue Latitudes by Tony Horwitz
Horwitz is know for a casual but informative tone in his fact-filled, steadily-paced nonfiction. As the subtitle of this work suggests, Horwitz boldly goes where Captain Cook has gone before—tracing Cook’s three voyages between 1768 and 1779 that mapped a previously uncharted third of the globe. Fascinating and fun!

Cod by Mark Kurlansky
Kurlansky’s works span a large range of topics. He presents history with a celebratory tone and uses plenty of humor; he also immerses himself in the subject, providing insight into matters whose connection seems remote until he delves into them. Cod is a history of the fish that has led to wars, stirred revolutions, sustained economies and diets, and helped in the settlement of North America.

Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? by Martin Gardner
Readers who enjoy Bryson’s science writing might like this book. Gardner, a master debunker of scientific fraud and pseudoscience, takes on Freud’s dream theory, numerology, reflexology, and the Heaven's Gate cult, among other assaults on reason and rational thought. He presents a witty and erudite rejection of outrageous superstitions masquerading as science.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Part foreign affairs discourse, part humor, and part twisted self-help guide, this book takes the reader from America to Iceland to India in search of happiness, or, in the author's case, moments of "un-unhappiness." The book uses a mixture of travel, psychology, science and humor to investigate not what happiness is, but where it is.

The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
Bryson credits Theroux, who in 1975 set the standard for provocative travel accounts with personal reflections, as one of his influences. Rich with characters and adventure, this travelogue takes readers on a fascinating and entertaining journey on classic trains and routes, such as the Orient, Mandalay, and Trans-Siberian Expresses.

My Family and Other Animals by Gerard Durrell
Travel and animals dominate the writing of naturalist Durrell, topics that offer scope for his quirky humor, accessible erudition, flights of fantasy, and astute observations. This book combines the natural history of Corfu with the less conventional history of his own family. Humor and accurate scientific detail characterize this charming tale.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
Science writer Roach travels widely to gather material for her side-splittingly funny books. Like Bryson, she makes complex subjects accessible to lay readers. Space is a world devoid of things that humans need to live, and Roach explores the irresistibly strange universe of space travel and life without gravity.

Pecked to Death by Ducks by Tim Cahill
Cahill is an adventurer, willing to meet any physical challenge—and try any food—in the country he explores. While his exploits may be more extreme, Bryson readers will enjoy his companionable style. Here, Cahill chronicles many adventures, from guzzling beer in Australia to a tour of the oil-well fires in Kuwait to bear watching in Yellowstone.

The Sinner’s Grand Tour by Tony Perrottet
Known for his explorations of historic salaciousness, Perrottet puts a new twist on the grand European tour—from the Marquis de Sade’s castle and Casanova’s Venice to Britain’s Hellfire sex clubs of the 1700s and the Vatican’s pornographic art. This mix of quirky historic tales and traditional travelogue makes for an entertaining, informative, and strangely tasteful narrative.

Travels with Alice by Calvin Trillin
Another Midwestern transplant (but to New York City rather than England) travels to Europe with his wife and daughters in search of interesting food and adventures. Trillin’s accounts of fine (and not-so-fine) eating resonate with insights into people and places. His conversational and playful style. ability to put himself into the story, and wonderful self-deprecating humor should please Bryson fans.

Books by Bill Bryson that you shouldn’t miss:

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
Bryson recalls growing up in the middle of the last century (the 1950s) in the middle of the country (Des Moines, IA). His alter ego, the Thunderbolt Kid, born of his love for comic-book superheroes and the need to vaporize irritating people, serves as an astute outside observer of life around him. In addition to nostalgic memories, Bryson’s usual meticulous research is evident here.

A Short History of Nearly Everything
Bryson takes the reader on a scientific odyssey from the Big Bang to the rise of civilization. Reflecting his gift for making science comprehensible yet fun, he tells the story of the discoveries and people that have shaped our understanding of the universe in such a way that even those with no knowledge or interest in science can enjoy it.

A Walk in the Woods
"Walking is what we did," Bryson says, as he and a friend attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. He laces his narrative with gobbets of trail history and local trivia, highlighting the natural pleasures, human eccentrics, and offbeat comforts of the Trail. Of course, one stop is Front Royal, which makes this a must-read!


  1. How about Travels with Charley by Steinbeck?