Bill Bryson

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Bryson is such a safe bet for readers and, as such, for publishers. Give him just about any topic and he has the discipline to research it, the editorial savvy to cherry pick the interesting bits, and the writing skills to articulate this in a palatable and succinct style. Thereís nowhere itís as funny as, for example, parts of A Walk in the Woods, but itís thoroughly engaging.

The launching point Ė and it could be anything Ė in this case is his purchase of a 19th Century former village rectory. He starts wondering about its history, and produces a book which meanders around events, people and lifestyle of (mostly) England in the 1800s. With his bower-bird mind, he is so free to just dip in and out, heís not trying to be comprehensive, so despite this being a factual book about historical details it never becomes homework (Bryson would fit perfectly as a researcher for Steven Fryís Q.I. program).

I donít know how much of the book Iíll remember, particularly as itís not so much about themes as anecdotes. There is deliberately not much depth Ė people, for example,are often skimmed over in thumbnail sketches, and Iím sure some of the characters neatly summed up as Ďnastyí or whatever had more to them Ė but if you want to know more, you can go get a different sort of book. It may be more nuanced and balanced, but itís unlikely to be as entertaining.

March 2013