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In a Sunburned Country and Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

By Mr. Vlach | Books | August 6, 2009 |

By Mr. Vlach | Books | August 6, 2009 |


In a Sunburned Country

In a Sunburned Country describes Bill Bryson's journey through all parts of Australia. I have wanted to visit Australia for some time, so I was intrigued when I picked up the book, and became further hooked as I began reading.

Bryson begins his narrative by describing some of the many ways you can die in Australia. For example, several of the deadliest species of snakes in the world live on the continent. In the ocean, there are strong rip currents along with saltwater crocodiles. In the outback, there are the high temperatures, lack of water, and distance from everything. These are in addition to the more mundane ways that a person can die in other places.

Bryson also stresses how little most people know about Australia. He includes statistics about the rarity of Australia appearing in American news sources. To further illustrate his point, he tells the story of an Australian prime minister who simply vanished in the ocean. The leader of a very well-known country just disappeared, and very few people have heard of the story.

Now, on to the subject of the book. Bryson travels throughout the country, visiting all of its major cities and comparing and contrasting them. He describes the majestic landmarks of Sydney, the beauty of Perth and the dullness of Canberra, among other things. He also describes the countryside in between, taking trips to the outback and off the coast to the Great Barrier Reef.

No Bryson book would be complete without his sense of humor. Some choice examples include his listing of place names, such as the town of Tittybong, his summary of commentators at a cricket match that he heard on the radio during a long, lonely drive, and his story about how a dozen rabbits unfortunately led to major changes to the country's ecology.

If you like reading about distant places or have an interest in Australia, be sure to pick up In a Sunburned Country.

Notes from a Small Island

Notes From a Small Island is another example of travel writing by Bill Bryson. In this case, after living in England for a number of years and just before returning to his native U.S., he decided to explore everything that the United Kingdom had to offer. He began at the English Channel and traveled to John O'Groats at the tip of Scotland, and visited points in between throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

As with Bryson's other books, he looks at things in a humorous way. He uses trains to travel throughout the country and spends time musing on the vagaries of British Rail. He also spent time commenting on his lodging and the historical sites he visited, as well as the odd sites that attracted him like on all of his other journeys. He makes a special point to marvel about just how old many of the things are in Britain, such as numerous footpaths and hedgerows dating hundreds of years and an abundance of churches and other buildings dating to medieval times. However, in one instance, he went to a decrepit ruin of a house to see a Roman mosaic, only to later find out that it was a replica.

While the book does a great job in describing what it is like to travel through Great Britain, Bryson also serves another purpose. He expresses his appreciation for his adopted land. While he sometimes points out the quirks of the British, he does so in a gentle, rather than mocking way.

While I did not enjoy this book as much as some of Bryson's other work (such as In a Sunburned Country and Thunderbolt Kid, I would recommend it to others, especially if you enjoy travel writing.


This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Mr. Vlach's reviews, check out his blog, The Luminous Reader.



Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.



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