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Book Review: 'At Home: A Short History of Private Life'

Book Review
Title: "At Home: A Short History of Private Life"
Author: Bill Bryson
Publisher: Doubleday, 2010; 512 pages; $28.95

At 512 pages in hardcover, including indices, I submit that Bill Bryson misleads with the subtitle of his latest book, "At Home: A Short History of Private Life." But given that "At Home" is more than 500 pages of joyful, intriguing exploration of the human experience, with subject matter plucked selectively (on the basis of "edu-tainment" value and relevance to the structural edifice of a home, even if only tangential) from eras ranging from the Neolithic to Bryson’s own family, I suppose the fact that it’s not actually all that short can be forgiven.

I’m not sure exactly how Bryson manages to find — much less weave into a cohesive journey for readers — such arcane and borderline bizarre facts and snippets as Thomas Jefferson’s invention of the French fry (which has somehow been overshadowed historically by his creation of the Declaration of Independence) and the fact that the Mesoamericans invented the wheel (although it was also invented spontaneously in many other cultures and eras) but couldn’t figure out what to do with it, save make children’s toys.

But he does, with masterful storytelling and a simple premise.