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From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, 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.

Published: Crown Publishing Group an imprint of Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780767926317
List price: $11.99
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Hilarious memoir of growing up in the heartland. I absolutely loved this book. Part memoir, part nostalgia, part fantasy, all fun!Bryson describes what it was like growing up in Iowa in the '50s and very early '60s. In doing so he manages to capture all the fun, mystery, and complexity a child feels during those growing up years while also adding a bit of adult whimsey to a child's fantasy life.Even though I grew up a generation later on another side of the country I could so easily relate to so many of the things that Bryson was saying. The internal fantasy life of a child, mixed with the hindsight of maturity, and the complexity of childhood friendships.I liked this book so much I immediately bought several other titles by Mr. Bryson to try and recapture the fun I had reading this book... it didn't work.I could go on and on about this book but I'd essentially be saying the same things over and over. It's fun, it's silly, it's poignant, it's great!I highly recommend this to anyone who ever had a childhood.more
3/2012 stet

5/2010 Listened to this in the car w/Dan, who is roughly the same age as Bryson. He loved it, and I liked it very much. Bryson's narration is excellent, and the anecdotes from his childhood are as often hilarious as they are poignant. His vanished Des Moines is a warm and wonderful place, and I'm happy to have shared it with him.more

Bill Bryson's travel writing is often hilarious and usually perceptive. In many ways this book – Bryson’s memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s - is also travel writing. In remembering and sharing his past, Bryson takes his readers to another place and time, both of which he vividly evokes in the narrative.

I laughed a lot while listening to Bryson read the audiobook version of his memoir. At times I laughed so much that there was a risk my bus commute would be embarrassing and my driving commute would be dangerous. Bryson has a wonderful ability to find the ridiculous in most situations, as well as in himself, his family and everyone around him. He also has the gift of humorous exaggeration: some of the incidents he writes about are clearly tall tales, or at least tales that have been stretched for effect.

This is not just a memoir, it is also a domestic history of the United States of the 1950s and 1960s: a limited history, it is true, of white Middle America, but an interesting history nevertheless. While Bryson has unashamed nostalgia for some aspects of that history, his criticism of other aspects of US history is pointed.

I’m younger than Bryson (although by less than a decade) and I grew up far from Des Moines. My childhood was in almost all respects quite different from Bryson’s. Nevertheless, his childhood experiences – particularly the experiences of his early childhood – speak to me. In recounting his history, Bryson has the ability to get readers to reflect on their own past. It may be that some early childhood experiences are universal – for example, first days at school and relationships with siblings and friends. For me, Bryson's early childhood experiences are the most interesting part of that part of the books which is a personal memoir. It is fair to say that I found the last part of the book, which deals with Bryson’s teenage years, less engaging than the rest of it. Even though I have sons of my own, I find the shenanigans of teenage boys of limited interest, particularly when those shenanigans involve looking for porn and stealing beer. One thing that struck me about Bryson’s discussion of high school was his take on relationships between white and African American students. I have no doubt that Bryson is sincere when he states that he did not witness racist behaviour. However, I wonder whether his African American high school contemporaries would share that view.

Overall, listening to this audiobook was a great way to spend a few hours. Funny and at times moving, it is more than a series of anecdotes. In a relatively brief book, Bryson manages to cover a lot of territory, from family holidays, to parental eccentricities, to 1950s toys, to cigarette advertising, to atomic testing, to the building of Disneyland … and lots more.
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This book is SO great, especially for me, having grown up in Iowa. Despite the difference in decades (and in location, Bryson being from Winfield just outside of Des Moines), it was very familiar.

The only thing I would change are the gross stories. There are a couple (not the toity jar, the toity jar had me ROLLING on the floor) that just seem unnecessarily gross. But whose childhood isn't filled with gross stuff? Maybe Bryson's just making a point.

Either way, he won't ever lose me as a listener. I love hearing him read his own work.more
I'm a fan of Bryson's writing and had had this on my shelf for sometime, but didn't rush to read it as childhood reminiscences usually bore me to tears, This was the exception, and yes I did chuckle out loud. We may be from different countries, different sexes, and I am a little younger, but Bill's genial nostalgia reminded me of a simpler time that I remembered. A childhood where entertainments were self-made and imaginative. Genial and life-affirming writing, where the humour is never forced and sign-posted and all the funnier for that. Must re-read some others of his.more
Don't read this on a treadmill! I was doing that and practically fell off because I was laughing so hard. Do young boys and teenagers REALLY think about naked girls/women that much?! YIKES! I think he could have left out those sexy parts, but other than that, I loved the book and would highly recommend it. By the way, I briefly lived in Des Moines as a child in the early sixties, and this brought back a lot of memories. Great book!more
Hilarious account of growing up in the American Mid-West in the 1950s. Although I grew up half a world away in Central Africa, Bill Bryson and I are of an age and much in the book resonated with me. It was a magically untroubled time for children.I kept laughing aloud, so much and so often, that my husband was desperate for me to finish the book so he could read it and find out what was so funny. Great to have a book which you put down with a smile on your lips and a warm feel-good sensation.more
This was a really fun read! Bryson's writing is witty and laugh out loud funny. This is the rather exaggerated story of his growing up years - in Des Moines - in the 50s. He believes he has come to this planet to save it from morons as the Thunderbolt Kid... able to reduce imbeciles to a pile of smoldering ashes by his amazing glance.The book weaves Bryson's life into the tale of the long forgotten Des Moines of the 50s - sharing the history and good will of the times with the deep ironies that it was. What other decade had such awful toys, such a joy of blowing things up yet had the year voted cheerfulest year (1957)???He doesn't necessarily long for the good old days, rather he seems to understand that he was privileged to be a part of something that could never happen again. The granduer of old movie houses, the innocence of a unracist school and growing up amid scores and hordes of kids - all out doors without an adult in the vicinity!Bryson doesn't sentamentalize the 50s as much as he just shares the good and the bad.His closing chapter - looking back at why society has felt the need to destroy the old rather than revitalizing and connecting it with the possibilities of the new is a point to ponder.This is the second Bryson book I've read - A Walk in the Woods - is his hilarious story of hiking the Appalachian Trail!On a side note - the guys dad grew up in Winfield!!! Small world???This gets a hearty recommendation!!more
If you were a kid in the 1950's you can relate to this book. Bill has a way (as with all his books)of keeping it light, interesting and moving along. An enjoyable quick read.more
Reading this book was like getting a wonderful, extended, non-Christmas version of “A Christmas Story”. Bryson’s narration brought to mind the voice-overs in that wonderful movie, and getting to see small(ish) town life in an era many years before I was born was a very enjoyable experience.This book was laugh out loud funny in places. In fact, the reason I decided to read it was that my father read me a few passages from his copy and he had to keep stopping because he was laughing so hard. Bryson’s voice is mocking without being bitter, teasing without being mean – and best of all, still full of the wonder of a time and place long ago…maybe even more so in the light of what the world is now.“TV dinners (formally TV Brand Dinners), possibly the best bad food ever produced, and I mean that as the sincerest of compliments. TV dinners gave you a whole meal on a compartmentalized aluminum tray. All you had to add was a knife and fork and a dab of butter on the mashed potatoes and you had a complete meal that generally managed (at least in our house) to offer an interesting range of temperature experiences across the compartments, from tepid and soggy (fried chicken) to leap-up-in-astonishment scalding (soup or vegetable) to still partly frozen (mashed potatoes), and all curiously metallic tasting…” Anyone who has ever had the dubious pleasure of eating a TV dinner can relate to this experience. I remember taking a bite of the partly frozen potatoes just to try and revive the inside of my mouth that had just been disintegrated by cherry pie filling that was the temperature of the surface of the sun.Or when describing what I knew as pixie sticks, “straws containing a gritty sugar so ferociously sour that your whole face would actually be sucked into your mouth like sand collapsing into a hole”. Beyond Bryson’s humor, there is such lovely nostalgia that the reader yearns to be able to experience the world he so eloquently describes. “Driving home from Ashworth Pool through Greenwood Park, under a flying canopy of green leaves, nicely basted in chlorine and knowing that you would shortly be plunging your face into three gooey scoops of Reed’s ice cream is the finest feeling of well-being a human can have.”And the contrast between the life of an American child then and now is both striking and bittersweet. Instead of being over stimulated by screens and sedentary activities…“I knew exactly how clouds drifted on a July afternoon, what rain tasted like, how ladybugs preened and caterpillars rippled, what it felt like to sit inside a bush.”As wonderful as most of the stories are, Bryson certainly acknowledges the far darker side of the post war era. Although they are certainly not the focus of this book, he does not pretend that the time in which he grew up was perfect.“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” was a wonderful journey back in time for me – and I thank the author for making it and I thank my father for letting me take it with him.more
I had read A Walk In The Woods several years ago and really enjoyed it. I was not disapointed with this book either. Bill has a great way of making you visualize what he is talking about that just leaves you laughing out loud. I have to say the ending was bitter sweet. I find myself missing these simpler times and hate seeing our old down towns die. I enjoyed the funny walk back down memory lane.more
It always seems that the next Bryson book you read can't possibly be as good as the last. But it always is. Bryson is one of our best contemporary humorists--his prose always precise, his good-humored affection for his subjects palpable. As he pointed out, his childhood was so normal and happy that little could be said about it, so, instead, he has written a graceful essay about the 1950s of his youth into which his family now and then hilariously intrudes. I find it remarkable that Bryson, who has spent so much of his life abroad, can still write such an unequivocally American book.more
It's a funny book (well, I did the audio CD), but there was something about the 1950s (and 1960s) that you just had to live through it to love and appreciate the period. I did. Bryson brought back such overwhelming memories of those gone forever innocent days. We're too sophisticated and jaded nowadays, I won't be around in another 30-40 years but I wonder if the Y2K generation will feel the same about their early years as we 'Boomers did about the 1950s. Bless you, Bill Bryson, for giving me something special: a honking good dose of nostalgia and longing for those good old days.more
It does us all good to look at life with a humorous slant sometimes, and nobody does it better than Bill Bryson. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid promised to do just that, and I was not disappointed. Bryson has that uncanny ability to take the norms of everyday life (in this case childhood) and turn them into hilarious sojourns. I always feel an up lift in my mood after reading him. It is the same feeling you get after watching a Warner Bros cartoon. In fact, he either bases his character personas on Warner Bros, or the Warner Bros saw life much as Bryson does. Either way, you’re in for a laugh. American it may be, but this memoir is relevant to anyone in the western world growing up in the 50s and 60s. Kids were literally everywhere, as Bryson points out in Chapter Two. “If you stood on any corner with a bike – any corner anywhere – over a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going.” OK, slight exaggeration, (something Bryson is known for) but an immediate image is provoked of neighbourhood kids converging on street corners and heading off into the great unknown. And I love his way of pushing the truth just that little bit further – “I knew kids who were pushed out the back door at eight in the morning and not allowed back in until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding -“No one is spared by Bryson either. His parents (who were really just The Kid’s earthly care-takers), teachers, neighbours, friends, school bullies, shop-keepers, distant relatives, were all in danger of being vapourized by “the kid’s” sizzling glare. This is childhood at its best, where everything is within your power and all adults are nincompoops, totally unaware of the far reaching world of the young. A couple of characters seem to be drawn from classic moulds. Bryson’s grandparents in particular. Chapter Ten, Down On The Farm tells us about summers on his grandparents farm in Winfield, Iowa and reintroduced me to the word ‘rutabaga’, which brought on fits of laughter for no real reason (obviously some long forgotten childhood association there). And his friend Doug Willoughby seems to be the human version of Wiley Coyote, which would have added a dangerous element to anyone’s childhood. It would seem Willoughby holds the record in Des Moines for incurring visits from the Fire Department to his home. Then there is the author’s quest to view the naked female form (preferably in the flesh). Something that seems to be constantly thwarted by the Gods! It is all very funny and extremely likely, given the times and the variable situations. For many years now I have felt that one of the most important things about growing up is not to forget what being a child is like - an important tool in keeping life’s perspectives. Bryson seems to have mastered this, and the Thunderbolt Kid, is the perfect vehicle for zooming back into that sphere of wonder called childhood.more
Growing up in the 50s is not that much different than what I experienced growing up in the 70s. Because of that, this book resonated quite well with me, and I disturbed those around me multiple times by laughing out loud as I read. Highly recommended for anybody from the Boomer or Gen X generations.more
Here's how I rate Bill Bryson's books: One star for each embarrassing episode of inadvertent bursts of out-loud laughter in a public place. As you can see, I found The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid to be a thoroughly embarrassing read.Bryson made his name as a travel humorist. (The first book of his that I read, Notes From a Small Island, also earned four snorts — I mean, stars.) That book documented his valedictory tour of Great Britain, where he had lived and worked as a journalist for a couple of decades, just before he brought his family back to his native United States. He also has documented his travels in Australia, the American Midwest, and a trek up the Appalachian Trail, all of which were reliably amusing if not entirely gut-busting. Along the way, Bryson also penned several books about the English language, Shakespeare, and the history of the modern house, bringing his trademark whimsy and fascination with the small details of history to each.In The Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson looks back, chronicling his nearly idyllic childhood growing up in 1950s Des Moines, Iowa. Some of my friends find Bryson's humor to be occasionally mean-spirited, and it's true that he has a knack for skewering the least-attractive personality traits of some of the self-important blowhards he meets in his travels. Perhaps it's the softening effects of time, but there was relatively little savagery on display in Thunderbolt Kid. Oh, he still finds ways to point out the ridiculous aspects of some of his childhood nemeses, but the punches are pulled somewhat, leaving the reader with all of the humor and little of the discomfort.I read a comment from another LibraryThing reader who speculated that only those who had grown up in 1950s America might appreciate The Thunderbolt Kid. I don't think that's true, necessarily; I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s but I still found much to enjoy in Bryson's memoir. I recommend this book to any fan of Bryson's or of coming-of-age stories, or anyone who enjoys having to apologize to the other riders on the city bus for bursting out in surprised guffaws while reading silently to oneself.more
Just as funny and well written and as much of a pleasure to read as any of his travel books. This man is true genius with a pen!more
An enjoyable walk down memory lane for me, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson tells of his early years in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950’s. Such a strange time, so many things to worry about - Communists, Atomic War, giant mutated bugs - and yet, as a whole such a happy time. The war was over, and North America got down to the business of making money, raising a family and driving cars.In his usual humorous way, he walks us through his memories of childhood, giving us a few facts and figures along the way. His descriptions jogged my memory and overall, I enjoyed this book very much. A little repetitive at times, and I don’t know if people who didn’t live through the fifties would be able to relate to how simple and naïve we actually were.This is my second Bill Bryson book, and I am eager to continue exploring this author’s writings. He is a master at entertaining and enlightening his readers. For me The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid was a wonderful trip back to the fifties and a way of life that has disappeared.more
Short but entertaining, it is the author's autobiography of his youth - growing up in America in the 50s. In one of his other books he describes going on a modern roadtour looking for what was left of his childhood, and finds many things that weren't as he remembered them. This is the complimentary book - the things that he remembered but that have passed out of existance. Obviously it will be of most interest to people who also grew up in america, and in the 50s. But it is also surprisingly informative for those like me who weren't even born in the 50s (hell my parents were only just born!) and have only visited america. What it does show is that the 'image' of the Golden Years in the US that we in UK shamelessly copied and imagined and saw only in films - really was true. This is something I've never quite believed.It is one assumes only slightly exagerated as is always the case with Bryson's writing, but even so it casts a picture that is hard to believe considering the straights the Uk was in at the time - a childhood of summer time, with local diners and stores, places to get into mischief and no particularly bad consequences. On a section entitled 'Me, Worry?' he states the greatest fears at the time were polio, and teenagers. The Cuban Missile Crisis hadn't reached his juvenile ears, and the various radioactive nucler bomb tests weren't yet seen as hazzardous. Neither was smoking of course, or being doused in pesticides such as DDT. However even thinking about naked women or communism were subject to cries of moral outrage. Each chapter is preluded with an actual newspaper headline of the time, and frequently a photo of Bryson as well. Even these alone are enough to give life to Golden Age. Bryson's exhuberant prose and anecdotes are scarcily needed, but add a distinct personal touch. Worth reading, to understand the USA today.more
I like the way Bill Bryson writes, he always has me laughing out loud (and not many writers can do that), and this book is no exception. He tells us about his youth in Des Moines, Iowa, in his usual conversational manner, with great good humour, very candidly, without any sentimentality, and makes it a very interesting tale indeed. I'd especially recommend this book to over-cautious and worrying parents as it shows that this writer was not a little angel, even boasts that one year he skipped more lessons "than a terminally ill pupil" - and still he managed to find his way in life very well.more
I chuckled in more than a few places at Bryson's wit, exaggeration and suprisingly fascinating facts. This memoir evokes a time of childhood innocence in an unique period of history and Bryson makes it accessible, to even non Americans like me. Hilarious and enjoyable.more
As usual, Bryson gets a bit preachy about the effect of "progress" on modern life (agriculture, architecture, you name it). The comedic riffs make it all worthwhile, though.more
Funny book and easy to get through. Loved his stories about his dad and family.more
Audio.....Great, funny. Tony listened to it.more
always funny, always interesting, good sociological analysis, not just social history. Wonderful characters mostly. Sometimes unkind and mean as a boy in the way they bullied certain other students.more
A humorous look at what it was like growing up in the 50's and 60's. Parts of this book I thought were really funny, but other parts I found boring and just wanted to skip over them. Overall, it was a good book, but not nearly as entertaining as "A Walk In The Woods," by the same author.more
Bryson is exactly 16 months older than I, and boy did he nail down what growing up in the 50's was like. There's also a weird coincidence of his siblings and their ages -- smack on with my brother and sister. I would call it an amusing trip down memory lane.more
A wonderful trip down memory lane. This is the first book from Bill Bryson I have read and I liked it a lot. He's about 6 years older than I am, so many of his experiences resonated for me as well. I was especially amazed at how America has changed in the years between then and now. Life was simpler, slower and full of adventures. This book provided a glimpse back to that era and American life in the 1950s and 1960s.more
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Reviews

Hilarious memoir of growing up in the heartland. I absolutely loved this book. Part memoir, part nostalgia, part fantasy, all fun!Bryson describes what it was like growing up in Iowa in the '50s and very early '60s. In doing so he manages to capture all the fun, mystery, and complexity a child feels during those growing up years while also adding a bit of adult whimsey to a child's fantasy life.Even though I grew up a generation later on another side of the country I could so easily relate to so many of the things that Bryson was saying. The internal fantasy life of a child, mixed with the hindsight of maturity, and the complexity of childhood friendships.I liked this book so much I immediately bought several other titles by Mr. Bryson to try and recapture the fun I had reading this book... it didn't work.I could go on and on about this book but I'd essentially be saying the same things over and over. It's fun, it's silly, it's poignant, it's great!I highly recommend this to anyone who ever had a childhood.more
3/2012 stet

5/2010 Listened to this in the car w/Dan, who is roughly the same age as Bryson. He loved it, and I liked it very much. Bryson's narration is excellent, and the anecdotes from his childhood are as often hilarious as they are poignant. His vanished Des Moines is a warm and wonderful place, and I'm happy to have shared it with him.more

Bill Bryson's travel writing is often hilarious and usually perceptive. In many ways this book – Bryson’s memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s - is also travel writing. In remembering and sharing his past, Bryson takes his readers to another place and time, both of which he vividly evokes in the narrative.

I laughed a lot while listening to Bryson read the audiobook version of his memoir. At times I laughed so much that there was a risk my bus commute would be embarrassing and my driving commute would be dangerous. Bryson has a wonderful ability to find the ridiculous in most situations, as well as in himself, his family and everyone around him. He also has the gift of humorous exaggeration: some of the incidents he writes about are clearly tall tales, or at least tales that have been stretched for effect.

This is not just a memoir, it is also a domestic history of the United States of the 1950s and 1960s: a limited history, it is true, of white Middle America, but an interesting history nevertheless. While Bryson has unashamed nostalgia for some aspects of that history, his criticism of other aspects of US history is pointed.

I’m younger than Bryson (although by less than a decade) and I grew up far from Des Moines. My childhood was in almost all respects quite different from Bryson’s. Nevertheless, his childhood experiences – particularly the experiences of his early childhood – speak to me. In recounting his history, Bryson has the ability to get readers to reflect on their own past. It may be that some early childhood experiences are universal – for example, first days at school and relationships with siblings and friends. For me, Bryson's early childhood experiences are the most interesting part of that part of the books which is a personal memoir. It is fair to say that I found the last part of the book, which deals with Bryson’s teenage years, less engaging than the rest of it. Even though I have sons of my own, I find the shenanigans of teenage boys of limited interest, particularly when those shenanigans involve looking for porn and stealing beer. One thing that struck me about Bryson’s discussion of high school was his take on relationships between white and African American students. I have no doubt that Bryson is sincere when he states that he did not witness racist behaviour. However, I wonder whether his African American high school contemporaries would share that view.

Overall, listening to this audiobook was a great way to spend a few hours. Funny and at times moving, it is more than a series of anecdotes. In a relatively brief book, Bryson manages to cover a lot of territory, from family holidays, to parental eccentricities, to 1950s toys, to cigarette advertising, to atomic testing, to the building of Disneyland … and lots more.
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This book is SO great, especially for me, having grown up in Iowa. Despite the difference in decades (and in location, Bryson being from Winfield just outside of Des Moines), it was very familiar.

The only thing I would change are the gross stories. There are a couple (not the toity jar, the toity jar had me ROLLING on the floor) that just seem unnecessarily gross. But whose childhood isn't filled with gross stuff? Maybe Bryson's just making a point.

Either way, he won't ever lose me as a listener. I love hearing him read his own work.more
I'm a fan of Bryson's writing and had had this on my shelf for sometime, but didn't rush to read it as childhood reminiscences usually bore me to tears, This was the exception, and yes I did chuckle out loud. We may be from different countries, different sexes, and I am a little younger, but Bill's genial nostalgia reminded me of a simpler time that I remembered. A childhood where entertainments were self-made and imaginative. Genial and life-affirming writing, where the humour is never forced and sign-posted and all the funnier for that. Must re-read some others of his.more
Don't read this on a treadmill! I was doing that and practically fell off because I was laughing so hard. Do young boys and teenagers REALLY think about naked girls/women that much?! YIKES! I think he could have left out those sexy parts, but other than that, I loved the book and would highly recommend it. By the way, I briefly lived in Des Moines as a child in the early sixties, and this brought back a lot of memories. Great book!more
Hilarious account of growing up in the American Mid-West in the 1950s. Although I grew up half a world away in Central Africa, Bill Bryson and I are of an age and much in the book resonated with me. It was a magically untroubled time for children.I kept laughing aloud, so much and so often, that my husband was desperate for me to finish the book so he could read it and find out what was so funny. Great to have a book which you put down with a smile on your lips and a warm feel-good sensation.more
This was a really fun read! Bryson's writing is witty and laugh out loud funny. This is the rather exaggerated story of his growing up years - in Des Moines - in the 50s. He believes he has come to this planet to save it from morons as the Thunderbolt Kid... able to reduce imbeciles to a pile of smoldering ashes by his amazing glance.The book weaves Bryson's life into the tale of the long forgotten Des Moines of the 50s - sharing the history and good will of the times with the deep ironies that it was. What other decade had such awful toys, such a joy of blowing things up yet had the year voted cheerfulest year (1957)???He doesn't necessarily long for the good old days, rather he seems to understand that he was privileged to be a part of something that could never happen again. The granduer of old movie houses, the innocence of a unracist school and growing up amid scores and hordes of kids - all out doors without an adult in the vicinity!Bryson doesn't sentamentalize the 50s as much as he just shares the good and the bad.His closing chapter - looking back at why society has felt the need to destroy the old rather than revitalizing and connecting it with the possibilities of the new is a point to ponder.This is the second Bryson book I've read - A Walk in the Woods - is his hilarious story of hiking the Appalachian Trail!On a side note - the guys dad grew up in Winfield!!! Small world???This gets a hearty recommendation!!more
If you were a kid in the 1950's you can relate to this book. Bill has a way (as with all his books)of keeping it light, interesting and moving along. An enjoyable quick read.more
Reading this book was like getting a wonderful, extended, non-Christmas version of “A Christmas Story”. Bryson’s narration brought to mind the voice-overs in that wonderful movie, and getting to see small(ish) town life in an era many years before I was born was a very enjoyable experience.This book was laugh out loud funny in places. In fact, the reason I decided to read it was that my father read me a few passages from his copy and he had to keep stopping because he was laughing so hard. Bryson’s voice is mocking without being bitter, teasing without being mean – and best of all, still full of the wonder of a time and place long ago…maybe even more so in the light of what the world is now.“TV dinners (formally TV Brand Dinners), possibly the best bad food ever produced, and I mean that as the sincerest of compliments. TV dinners gave you a whole meal on a compartmentalized aluminum tray. All you had to add was a knife and fork and a dab of butter on the mashed potatoes and you had a complete meal that generally managed (at least in our house) to offer an interesting range of temperature experiences across the compartments, from tepid and soggy (fried chicken) to leap-up-in-astonishment scalding (soup or vegetable) to still partly frozen (mashed potatoes), and all curiously metallic tasting…” Anyone who has ever had the dubious pleasure of eating a TV dinner can relate to this experience. I remember taking a bite of the partly frozen potatoes just to try and revive the inside of my mouth that had just been disintegrated by cherry pie filling that was the temperature of the surface of the sun.Or when describing what I knew as pixie sticks, “straws containing a gritty sugar so ferociously sour that your whole face would actually be sucked into your mouth like sand collapsing into a hole”. Beyond Bryson’s humor, there is such lovely nostalgia that the reader yearns to be able to experience the world he so eloquently describes. “Driving home from Ashworth Pool through Greenwood Park, under a flying canopy of green leaves, nicely basted in chlorine and knowing that you would shortly be plunging your face into three gooey scoops of Reed’s ice cream is the finest feeling of well-being a human can have.”And the contrast between the life of an American child then and now is both striking and bittersweet. Instead of being over stimulated by screens and sedentary activities…“I knew exactly how clouds drifted on a July afternoon, what rain tasted like, how ladybugs preened and caterpillars rippled, what it felt like to sit inside a bush.”As wonderful as most of the stories are, Bryson certainly acknowledges the far darker side of the post war era. Although they are certainly not the focus of this book, he does not pretend that the time in which he grew up was perfect.“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” was a wonderful journey back in time for me – and I thank the author for making it and I thank my father for letting me take it with him.more
I had read A Walk In The Woods several years ago and really enjoyed it. I was not disapointed with this book either. Bill has a great way of making you visualize what he is talking about that just leaves you laughing out loud. I have to say the ending was bitter sweet. I find myself missing these simpler times and hate seeing our old down towns die. I enjoyed the funny walk back down memory lane.more
It always seems that the next Bryson book you read can't possibly be as good as the last. But it always is. Bryson is one of our best contemporary humorists--his prose always precise, his good-humored affection for his subjects palpable. As he pointed out, his childhood was so normal and happy that little could be said about it, so, instead, he has written a graceful essay about the 1950s of his youth into which his family now and then hilariously intrudes. I find it remarkable that Bryson, who has spent so much of his life abroad, can still write such an unequivocally American book.more
It's a funny book (well, I did the audio CD), but there was something about the 1950s (and 1960s) that you just had to live through it to love and appreciate the period. I did. Bryson brought back such overwhelming memories of those gone forever innocent days. We're too sophisticated and jaded nowadays, I won't be around in another 30-40 years but I wonder if the Y2K generation will feel the same about their early years as we 'Boomers did about the 1950s. Bless you, Bill Bryson, for giving me something special: a honking good dose of nostalgia and longing for those good old days.more
It does us all good to look at life with a humorous slant sometimes, and nobody does it better than Bill Bryson. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid promised to do just that, and I was not disappointed. Bryson has that uncanny ability to take the norms of everyday life (in this case childhood) and turn them into hilarious sojourns. I always feel an up lift in my mood after reading him. It is the same feeling you get after watching a Warner Bros cartoon. In fact, he either bases his character personas on Warner Bros, or the Warner Bros saw life much as Bryson does. Either way, you’re in for a laugh. American it may be, but this memoir is relevant to anyone in the western world growing up in the 50s and 60s. Kids were literally everywhere, as Bryson points out in Chapter Two. “If you stood on any corner with a bike – any corner anywhere – over a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going.” OK, slight exaggeration, (something Bryson is known for) but an immediate image is provoked of neighbourhood kids converging on street corners and heading off into the great unknown. And I love his way of pushing the truth just that little bit further – “I knew kids who were pushed out the back door at eight in the morning and not allowed back in until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding -“No one is spared by Bryson either. His parents (who were really just The Kid’s earthly care-takers), teachers, neighbours, friends, school bullies, shop-keepers, distant relatives, were all in danger of being vapourized by “the kid’s” sizzling glare. This is childhood at its best, where everything is within your power and all adults are nincompoops, totally unaware of the far reaching world of the young. A couple of characters seem to be drawn from classic moulds. Bryson’s grandparents in particular. Chapter Ten, Down On The Farm tells us about summers on his grandparents farm in Winfield, Iowa and reintroduced me to the word ‘rutabaga’, which brought on fits of laughter for no real reason (obviously some long forgotten childhood association there). And his friend Doug Willoughby seems to be the human version of Wiley Coyote, which would have added a dangerous element to anyone’s childhood. It would seem Willoughby holds the record in Des Moines for incurring visits from the Fire Department to his home. Then there is the author’s quest to view the naked female form (preferably in the flesh). Something that seems to be constantly thwarted by the Gods! It is all very funny and extremely likely, given the times and the variable situations. For many years now I have felt that one of the most important things about growing up is not to forget what being a child is like - an important tool in keeping life’s perspectives. Bryson seems to have mastered this, and the Thunderbolt Kid, is the perfect vehicle for zooming back into that sphere of wonder called childhood.more
Growing up in the 50s is not that much different than what I experienced growing up in the 70s. Because of that, this book resonated quite well with me, and I disturbed those around me multiple times by laughing out loud as I read. Highly recommended for anybody from the Boomer or Gen X generations.more
Here's how I rate Bill Bryson's books: One star for each embarrassing episode of inadvertent bursts of out-loud laughter in a public place. As you can see, I found The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid to be a thoroughly embarrassing read.Bryson made his name as a travel humorist. (The first book of his that I read, Notes From a Small Island, also earned four snorts — I mean, stars.) That book documented his valedictory tour of Great Britain, where he had lived and worked as a journalist for a couple of decades, just before he brought his family back to his native United States. He also has documented his travels in Australia, the American Midwest, and a trek up the Appalachian Trail, all of which were reliably amusing if not entirely gut-busting. Along the way, Bryson also penned several books about the English language, Shakespeare, and the history of the modern house, bringing his trademark whimsy and fascination with the small details of history to each.In The Thunderbolt Kid, Bryson looks back, chronicling his nearly idyllic childhood growing up in 1950s Des Moines, Iowa. Some of my friends find Bryson's humor to be occasionally mean-spirited, and it's true that he has a knack for skewering the least-attractive personality traits of some of the self-important blowhards he meets in his travels. Perhaps it's the softening effects of time, but there was relatively little savagery on display in Thunderbolt Kid. Oh, he still finds ways to point out the ridiculous aspects of some of his childhood nemeses, but the punches are pulled somewhat, leaving the reader with all of the humor and little of the discomfort.I read a comment from another LibraryThing reader who speculated that only those who had grown up in 1950s America might appreciate The Thunderbolt Kid. I don't think that's true, necessarily; I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s but I still found much to enjoy in Bryson's memoir. I recommend this book to any fan of Bryson's or of coming-of-age stories, or anyone who enjoys having to apologize to the other riders on the city bus for bursting out in surprised guffaws while reading silently to oneself.more
Just as funny and well written and as much of a pleasure to read as any of his travel books. This man is true genius with a pen!more
An enjoyable walk down memory lane for me, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson tells of his early years in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950’s. Such a strange time, so many things to worry about - Communists, Atomic War, giant mutated bugs - and yet, as a whole such a happy time. The war was over, and North America got down to the business of making money, raising a family and driving cars.In his usual humorous way, he walks us through his memories of childhood, giving us a few facts and figures along the way. His descriptions jogged my memory and overall, I enjoyed this book very much. A little repetitive at times, and I don’t know if people who didn’t live through the fifties would be able to relate to how simple and naïve we actually were.This is my second Bill Bryson book, and I am eager to continue exploring this author’s writings. He is a master at entertaining and enlightening his readers. For me The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid was a wonderful trip back to the fifties and a way of life that has disappeared.more
Short but entertaining, it is the author's autobiography of his youth - growing up in America in the 50s. In one of his other books he describes going on a modern roadtour looking for what was left of his childhood, and finds many things that weren't as he remembered them. This is the complimentary book - the things that he remembered but that have passed out of existance. Obviously it will be of most interest to people who also grew up in america, and in the 50s. But it is also surprisingly informative for those like me who weren't even born in the 50s (hell my parents were only just born!) and have only visited america. What it does show is that the 'image' of the Golden Years in the US that we in UK shamelessly copied and imagined and saw only in films - really was true. This is something I've never quite believed.It is one assumes only slightly exagerated as is always the case with Bryson's writing, but even so it casts a picture that is hard to believe considering the straights the Uk was in at the time - a childhood of summer time, with local diners and stores, places to get into mischief and no particularly bad consequences. On a section entitled 'Me, Worry?' he states the greatest fears at the time were polio, and teenagers. The Cuban Missile Crisis hadn't reached his juvenile ears, and the various radioactive nucler bomb tests weren't yet seen as hazzardous. Neither was smoking of course, or being doused in pesticides such as DDT. However even thinking about naked women or communism were subject to cries of moral outrage. Each chapter is preluded with an actual newspaper headline of the time, and frequently a photo of Bryson as well. Even these alone are enough to give life to Golden Age. Bryson's exhuberant prose and anecdotes are scarcily needed, but add a distinct personal touch. Worth reading, to understand the USA today.more
I like the way Bill Bryson writes, he always has me laughing out loud (and not many writers can do that), and this book is no exception. He tells us about his youth in Des Moines, Iowa, in his usual conversational manner, with great good humour, very candidly, without any sentimentality, and makes it a very interesting tale indeed. I'd especially recommend this book to over-cautious and worrying parents as it shows that this writer was not a little angel, even boasts that one year he skipped more lessons "than a terminally ill pupil" - and still he managed to find his way in life very well.more
I chuckled in more than a few places at Bryson's wit, exaggeration and suprisingly fascinating facts. This memoir evokes a time of childhood innocence in an unique period of history and Bryson makes it accessible, to even non Americans like me. Hilarious and enjoyable.more
As usual, Bryson gets a bit preachy about the effect of "progress" on modern life (agriculture, architecture, you name it). The comedic riffs make it all worthwhile, though.more
Funny book and easy to get through. Loved his stories about his dad and family.more
Audio.....Great, funny. Tony listened to it.more
always funny, always interesting, good sociological analysis, not just social history. Wonderful characters mostly. Sometimes unkind and mean as a boy in the way they bullied certain other students.more
A humorous look at what it was like growing up in the 50's and 60's. Parts of this book I thought were really funny, but other parts I found boring and just wanted to skip over them. Overall, it was a good book, but not nearly as entertaining as "A Walk In The Woods," by the same author.more
Bryson is exactly 16 months older than I, and boy did he nail down what growing up in the 50's was like. There's also a weird coincidence of his siblings and their ages -- smack on with my brother and sister. I would call it an amusing trip down memory lane.more
A wonderful trip down memory lane. This is the first book from Bill Bryson I have read and I liked it a lot. He's about 6 years older than I am, so many of his experiences resonated for me as well. I was especially amazed at how America has changed in the years between then and now. Life was simpler, slower and full of adventures. This book provided a glimpse back to that era and American life in the 1950s and 1960s.more
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