Synopses & Reviews
From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s.
Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century 1951 in the middle of the United States Des Moines, Iowa in the middle of the largest generation in American history the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons) in his head as "The Thunderbolt Kid."
Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and of his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson's earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends.
Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bill Bryson has ever written. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.
"Though billed as memoir, Bryson's follow-up to A Short History of Nearly Everything can only be considered one in the broadest sense. Sure, it's filled with Bryson's recollections of his Des Moines, Iowa, childhood. But it's also a clear foray into Jean Shepherd territory, where nostalgia for one's youth is suffused with comic hyperbole: 'All sneakers in the 1950s had over seven dozen lace holes,' we're told; though all the toys were crummy, it didn't matter because boys had plenty of fun throwing lit matches at each other; and mimeograph paper smelled wonderful. The titular Thunderbolt Kid is little more than a recurring gag, a self-image Bryson invokes to lash out at the 'morons' that plague every child's existence. At other times, he offers a glib pop history of the decade, which works fine when discussing teen culture or the Cold War but falls flat when trying to rope in the Civil Rights movement. And sometimes he just wants to reminisce about his favorite TV shows or the Dick and Jane books. The book is held together by sheer force of personality but when you've got a personality as big as Bryson's, sometimes that's enough." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Bryson has produced a book so outlandishly and improbably entertaining, you begin to doubt its veracity....As a humorist, Bryson falls somewhere between the one-liner genius of Dave Barry and the narrative brilliance of David Sedaris." Jay Jennings, The New York Times Book Review
"A charming, funny recounting of growing up in Des Moines during the sleepy 1950s.... A great, fun read, especially for Baby Boomers nostalgic for the good old days." Kirkus Reviews
"Bryson pokes fun at the place and the era, but he also makes fun of himself and conveys his nostalgia and compassion for his hometown and childhood." Providence Journal
"This affectionate portrait wistfully recalls the bygone days of 'Burns and Allen' and downtown department stores but with a good-natured elbow poke to the ribs." Booklist
"Students of the decade's popular culture will marvel at the insular innocence described, even as the world moved toward nuclear weapons and civil unrest." School Library Journal
"Bill Bryson's laugh-out-loud pilgrimage through his Fifties childhood in heartland America is a national treasure. It's full of insights, wit, and wicked adolescent fantasies." Tom Brokaw
"Bill Bryson is such a funny and evocative writer that he can transform the least promising material into something memorably hilarious....Bryson's sardonic wit and absurdist sense of fun fuel every 'uneventful' page, bringing to life a schizophrenic decade of wild optimism mixed with rampant fear." Chuck Leddy, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire CSM review
The best-selling author of A Walk in the Woods and I'm a Stranger Here Myself describes his all-American childhood growing up as a member of the baby boom generation in the heart of Iowa, detailing his rich fantasy life as a superhero known as the Thunderbolt Kid and his his remarkably normal 1950s family life. 250,000 first printing.
From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language comes a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century.
About the Author
Bill Bryson's bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words, and A Short of History of Nearly Everything, which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize. Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.