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.
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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.
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