And from the very beginning I was glad I chose sooner. At Home is set up to explore the details of civilization through the exploration of an old parsonage Bryson owns in Britain. The chapters are named for rooms in the house and while each chapter relates to the room it's named for, there are many other paths the information follows as well. Almost a third of the way in, after establishing the book's premise, Bryson defines the theme of this short history: "If you had to summarize it in a sentence, you could say that the history of private life is a history of getting comfortable slowly. Until the eighteenth century, the idea of having comfort at home was so unfamiliar that no word existed for the condition. Comfortable meant merely 'capable of being consoled.' Comfort was something you gave to the wounded or distressed" (160).
No such thing as the word comfort as we know it today? I knew there would be loads of fun trivia like this, but I never imagined how closely some of them would hit home (ha ha ha...that's a pun, but is it irony too?). The beginning chapters discussed the role of servants in homes of the nineteenth century. And who would be the man with the most detailed accounts of servants in his home? Thomas Carlyle. If the name doesn't ring a bell, take a look at the quote under my picture header for this blog.
I originally found this quote on a poster I bought for my classroom and thought it absolutely fitting for a book blog. And here I find Thomas Carlyle, not really an altogether nice man or terrific writer as he wanted to be, but notable and in this wonderful book of trivia.
The next fun fact I happened upon involved Thomas Edison. He is my son's current historical crush, so to speak. Unlike me, my ten-year-old is enthralled with nonfiction, specifically historical figures, more so than fiction. He dressed up like Thomas Edison the week of Dr. Suess's birthday for character day...Edison being the chapter book biography he'd read the week before. However, what I learned of Edison would be a bit soul crushing to my son. Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb, per say, but basically receives credit because he did something much bigger in creating the system through which light bulbs lit houses and businesses. He was also smart enough to patent everything he did. This is all good, except for the fact that Edison was something of a jerk too. He stole and cheated his way through anything he had to, as long as it meant he made progress and reached his goals. Great role model.
Next close-to-home topic was that of Elisha Gray, Alexander Graham Bell, and the telephone. Both men submitted patents (of sorts) on the same day for like devices. There's much more to this story, but upon mentioning this book and its topics to my mom she randomly mentioned Elisha Gray, saying he is a cofounder of today's electrical company Graybar (founded in 1869) from which my mom worked her entire career and retired. Very cool discovery!
And if you could indulge me with just one more. I also came across mention of a Henry Bessemer, who found a way to mass produce and market steel in the mid-1800s. His discovery was life changing for architecture and construction. Bryson mentions that at least a dozen cities named themselves after him. I teach in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. There are a few towns that make up our school district, but the one I drive through every day is called Bessemer. It is very small, but has a concrete factory at its center, which lends itself to the type of work with which Henry Bessemer involved himself. I'm not positive the correlation is correct, but I've sent some inquiries to people and think it's a pretty sure thing.
All this to say, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryon's At Home. I truly discovered things about my home and life while reading. Not to mention the fun history of language phrases like why it's called being "in the limelight" and why British sailors are "Limeys." It doesn't get much better than this!