Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, Bill Bryson

Rating: 5 out of 5

There is something fundamentally simple in Mr Bryson’s approach. While we aren’t dealing with a historian extraordinaire, it is clear that the author takes interest in nearly everything. Here, the story of the 1950’s and 1960’s in the United States is brought together with the first twenty years of the author’s life. The juxtaposition of the life with the times creates a modern chronicle with which the major political and economic events are coloured in with what Young Bill did.

One can nearly always bring the judgement against Mr Bryson that he uses too much sarcasm, that the hyperbole is too evident. The same applies here—though I generally enjoy the overconfidence he displays—especially when he speaks of his family, but a frequent reader knows to discount half of this to find the truth. In a change, a touching endword to this book also accounts for the exaggerations and describes the reaction of both friends and family. As such, even had I thought less of the author for these devices, the reader can forgive the seeming injustice he’s done to his peers.

The selection of historical narratives which Mr Bryson chose to enliven his account are also commendable. This work does not portray itself as a political history or want to explain the intricacies of geography, and yet the author’s quill is capable enough that many events are described in great detail. It didn’t escape my notice that the description of the 1954 Guatemala coup was more thorough here than in some works which portray themselves as narrative histories or popular science books.

Overall, a strong recommend from me! I know not everyone can get past Mr Bryson’s funny but enjoyable style, but it is worth a try. If nothing else, this author is likely to expand most reader’s understanding of the United States!

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