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Bill Bryson – In a Sunburned Country

October 29, 2010

127. In a Sunburned Country (also published as Down Under) by Bill Bryson (2000)

Read By: Bill Bryson
Length: 11h 55m (352 pages)

Genre: Non-fiction; Travelogue; Humor

Started: 21 September 2010
Finished: 13 October 2010

Where did it come from? The library.

Why do I have it? I wanted to do some local reading prior to traveling.

Bryson’s in fine form
as he travels across the
far side of the world.

Summary: At least in the U.S., Australia is kind of the forgotten continent – we know it’s there, but we don’t really know that much about it, hear about it in the news, etc. Bill Bryson sets out to remedy that fact with In a Sunburned Country, a travelogue detailing several of his trips to and across Australia. He starts out – as most people do – in Sydney, and then travels up and down the eastern coast, into the outback, and eventually across the country, giving the reader tales of his personal experience mixed with snippets of relevant history, biology, geography, politics, and economics. Along the way, he attempts to reconcile how such a vast country can seem so empty, yet contain so much.

Review: I started listening to this book while I was packing for my own first trip to Australia, as a way of getting myself excited about going, and to do some localized reading. However, I severely overestimated the time that I would have to listen to my audiobook while I was traveling, so by the time that I got to the part where Bryson made it across the country to Perth (the city I visited), I was already back home and unpacking.

Despite the slight mis-timing, however, I really enjoyed this book. Since it was published over a decade ago, some of its facts are unmistakably out of date, but on the whole I thought it presented an excellent picture of the country, at least from a visitor’s perspective. (Whether or not the Aussies would agree is a different matter, and one I can’t really speak to.) Even based on my own short time there, I was constantly finding things in Bryson’s book that I recognized, or that at the least seemed consistent with my experiences. Bryson presents them all in a nicely accessible way, too, managing to dredge up interesting bits of local trivia which are easily as amusing as his own travel foibles.

Bryson’s books in general are packed with so many details and bits of trivia and anecdotes that I can occasionally find them a little scatterbrained and hard to follow. I didn’t have that problem with this one; the geographical organization provided a good overall framework for the book, and the more general bits were worked into the story smoothly.

I did occasionally find myself wondering how Bryson decided to become a travel writer in the first place; he’s not a particularly adventurous traveler. His general thesis seems to be that Australia is a wonderful and charming country… despite being filled with a terrifying number of things that can kill you, and an unfortunate scarcity of good pubs. This makes In a Sunburned Country not so useful as a travel guide, per se, but as a travelogue, it wouldn’t have been the same without Bryson’s slight streak of curmudgeonliness. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Probably best for Americans (and others?) who have been, are going, or would one day like to go to Australia, or those who enjoy travelogues in general.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: The Book Lady’s Blog, Books and Cooks, Books in the City, Reading Matters, Sam Still Reading
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Flying into Australia, I realized with a sigh that I had forgotten again who their prime minister is.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2010 6:50 am

    Thanks for the link! I’m glad you liked it, I enjoyed Down Under much more than Notes From A Small Island. Hope you enjoyed Perth!

    • October 29, 2010 10:45 am

      Sam – I haven’t read Notes From a Small Island yet, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a fair bit nastier/bitchier? In any case, I think In a Sunburned Country is almost as good as A Walk in the Woods, which is my favorite Bryson so far.

  2. October 29, 2010 8:33 am

    I’ve only read one of Bryon’s books – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid – and it wasn’t really a travelogue, so I didn’t realize he’s a travel writer. I’ve always been fascinated with Australia, so I bet I’d like this one.

    • October 29, 2010 10:46 am

      bermudaonion – From what I can tell, about half of Bryson’s books are travelogues, and half are history, with The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid being his only memoir. But if you liked his writing style and like Australia, then you should definitely check this one out!

  3. October 29, 2010 12:13 pm

    I’m not particularly fond of Bryson, but if I ever work up the courage to give him another shot, this sounds nice.

    • November 3, 2010 9:41 am

      Omni – I’ve seen other people say that this is the least bitchy of his books, and he does definitely come across as genuinely in love with the country and its people.

  4. Elfy permalink
    October 29, 2010 8:46 pm

    Half the time we forget who the Prime Minister is, we only recently changed and it helps to remember that it’s our first female Prime Minister.

    • November 3, 2010 9:41 am

      Elfy – Heh, okay, if the locals can’t remember, then it seems like visitors should get a pass. :)

  5. November 2, 2010 3:03 pm

    I quite liked this one – Bryson’s personality definitely made it for me, and I didn’t know all that much about Australia so much of it was quite new to me. Sounds like I should read a more up-to-date book though.

    • November 3, 2010 9:43 am

      Meghan – I don’t know, it’s about a decade old, so some of the political stuff will be out of date, but when I was there recently I got the impression that most of the book was still pretty valid.

  6. November 7, 2010 3:36 pm

    I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson, particularly this book. Have you read A Walk in the Woods yet? It’s another great read :)


  1. Bill Bryson – Notes from a Small Island « Fyrefly's Book Blog
  2. Bill Bryson – Neither Here Nor There | Fyrefly's Book Blog

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