[ Book Review ] In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country by  Bill Bryson; if you think the going is rough, you’ve never been to Australia

Take-home messages:

  1. Australia doesn’t make waves. Except for swimming and drowning.
  2. Australian aborigines are quite remarkable. Except they’re criminally ignored.
  3. Australia has a lovely biosphere. Except it’s been trying to kill people since white settlers stepped on its shores. Quite successfully too.
  4. Australia’s history is full of crazy people who do great things. Except it’s usually by accident.
  5. Australia is full of potential. Except people don’t actually have much of an idea of what’s out there.
  6. Australia reminds Bryson of the 1950’s. Except dryer and bigger.
  7. Australia is quite lovely. Except– well, no, it’s just quite lovely.

Having enjoyed The Short History of Nearly Everything, I went straight to whatever Bryson book I could get my hands on. This travelogue hit me as a disappointment. Reading it, I slowed to a crawl sometime around the middle and had to grit my teeth to waddle my way to the end.

What went wrong? I think I was expecting something with a purely informative edge, much like Short History. Instead, the anecdotes I found truly engaging were based around historic and scientific tidbits, and not his life. But, it being a travel memoir, I got a whole lot more of the latter than I either expected or wanted. Not the book’s fault, mind.

The book also went on just a bit too lengthily about his perceptions of “quaint” Australia-land. Though he made a point (many times; the author doth protest too much) that he wasn’t talking down as he constantly and consistently compared Australian towns to 1950’s of small-town midwestern USA. Are you talking from on high, Bryson? I couldn’t quite tell; I’m not Australian.

I’ve shot a couple feelers and I’m waiting to hear back from my Australian contacts about how they felt.

Finally, the ending cut off rather abruptly, precipitating my disastrous attempt to buy the next Bryson adventure in Australia.  However, as it turns out, “Down Under” by Bill Bryson is the exact same book with a different title, courtesy of UK publishing. I discovered this after I got the book.

Do not let this happen to you.

All in all, it was an amusing read that didn’t meet my expectations. Still, I did learn a lot of fun facts about Australia–and Bill Bryson, too.

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2 thoughts on “[ Book Review ] In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

  1. I, too, enjoyed “Short History”. I’m guessing, though, that despite only making it over to Australia once so far, myself, this book wouldn’t interest me a whole lot. If he potentially sounds as though he is talking down Australia, I wonder what he would do to New Zealand?

  2. My favorite by him is about his travels in Europe – Neither Here Nor There. Sometimes he tends to be patronizing in order to funnier. I’d be curious to know what your Australian friends think.

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