In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country

A CLASSIC FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF ONE SUMMER Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door, memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion along the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime national bestseller A Walk in the Woods. In A Sunburned Country is his report on what he found in an entirely different place: Australia,...

Title:In a Sunburned Country
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0767903862
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:335 pages

In a Sunburned Country Reviews

  • Collette
    Mar 30, 2008

    Ok! First of all I'm here to tell you that non-fiction is normally not my bag. I think I got this book because I forgot to send in the "do not send" notice in a book club. That said..... I'm soooo happy that I didn't and I "made" myself read this. OMG!!! I lost track of how many times I laughed until there were tears running down my cheeks and how many smiles and chuckles it rang out of me!

    This is a book about Bryson's trips (I believe he combines a few trips to "Oz" into this one book) to the

    Ok! First of all I'm here to tell you that non-fiction is normally not my bag. I think I got this book because I forgot to send in the "do not send" notice in a book club. That said..... I'm soooo happy that I didn't and I "made" myself read this. OMG!!! I lost track of how many times I laughed until there were tears running down my cheeks and how many smiles and chuckles it rang out of me!

    This is a book about Bryson's trips (I believe he combines a few trips to "Oz" into this one book) to the really undiscovered island of Australia and his impressions of what he sees and who he meets. There is history, wonderfully funny and horribly gruesome and sad stories, lodging and traveling tips and a long list of places there that I really now want to see.

    His wit and sarcastic humor is what did it for me. I will look for more of his books and hope that he goes on more journeys to share with his reading audience.

  • Martine
    May 26, 2008

    I developed a taste for Bill Bryson last year when I read his

    , an ambitious attempt to trace the history of life, the universe and everything in just 574 pages. While many of the scientific discoveries outlined in the book were a little beyond me, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's descriptions of the larger-than-life personalities behind the discoveries, which really brought the science described to life. So when I found out that he had also written a travelogue of

    I developed a taste for Bill Bryson last year when I read his

    , an ambitious attempt to trace the history of life, the universe and everything in just 574 pages. While many of the scientific discoveries outlined in the book were a little beyond me, I thoroughly enjoyed Bryson's descriptions of the larger-than-life personalities behind the discoveries, which really brought the science described to life. So when I found out that he had also written a travelogue of a journey across the country I may soon call home -- Australia -- I simply had to read it.

    Australia, for those of you who have never been there, is one of the most colourful places on earth. It has a history so bizarre that it makes China's seem normal by comparison. It has insane expanses of the most arid desert imaginable, as well as some of the world's most beautiful beaches, where unfortunately you can't swim due to the prevalence of sharks, crocs, box jellyfish, stingrays and murderous rip currents. It houses beyond a shadow of a doubt the world's most interesting flora and fauna, including twelve-foot earthworms and living fossils. (And you thought kangaroos were exotic. Ha.) And if all that weren't interesting enough, the locals are slightly mad. They eat meat pies floating in pea soup, are crazy about cricket and consider shorts and knee-length socks proper attire for middle-aged bus drivers. In short, it's a unique place and I love it. I look forward to moving there in a few months' time.

    Bill Bryson also loves Australia, and it shows. While he likes to remind his readers of the country's amazing collection of deathly animals (over and over again) and poke fun at the locals and their weird habits, his affection for the place shines through in every chapter, and it's quite infectious. By describing his own travels and those of early settlers, explorers and naturalists, he provides the reader with an appreciation for how vast and unwelcoming the country is, and how utterly unique. He provides background information on events of which few non-Australians will have heard (such as the fact that a nuclear bomb may have been detonated in the outback without anyone noticing, and that an Australian Prime Minister once vanished, never to be seen again), waxes lyrical on trees and animals so bizarre that you'll want to hop on the first plane to Australia to check them out for yourself (again, kangaroos are only the beginning), explains why you should go and see Ayers Rock even if you've already seen hundreds of photos of it, and intersperses all this useful information with a winning combination of self-deprecating humour, bizarre anecdotes, absurd dialogue and entertaining accounts of encounters with fellow travellers and locals. The resulting book is not only completely recognisable to anyone who has visited Australia, but hugely appealing to anyone who hasn't. I doubt anyone can read this book without wishing to book a flight to Oz immediately afterwards.

    If I have any complaint about

    , it is that there is too little of it. While Bryson's writing is entertaining and informative, his choice of places to visit and describe seems rather random and limited. I wish he had done more travelling, gone further into the interior of the country and left all traces of luxury behind him for a while, so as to emulate the pioneers and explorers whose exploits he relates with such gusto. I also think the book would have benefited from slightly more rigorous editing, as parts of it seem rather hastily written. For all its small flaws, though,

    (released in the US as

    ) is a fascinating read which has whetted my appetite for more Bryson travelogues. And for a return to Oz, but that's another story.

  • RandomAnthony
    Dec 28, 2010

    Bill Bryson is on a short-list of go-to writers when I need a thoughtful but not too taxing book. His travel works seem to follow the Bryson formula:

    1. Bryson travels around a country and gets drunk in hotel bars.

    2. Bryson gets pissed off at rude and stupid people but is usually forgiving and self-depreciating.

    3. Bryson assiduously researches the locales beforehand and integrates history into his itineraries and narratives.

    4. Bryson writes with impeccable skill.

    5. Bryson balances mundane details

    Bill Bryson is on a short-list of go-to writers when I need a thoughtful but not too taxing book. His travel works seem to follow the Bryson formula:

    1. Bryson travels around a country and gets drunk in hotel bars.

    2. Bryson gets pissed off at rude and stupid people but is usually forgiving and self-depreciating.

    3. Bryson assiduously researches the locales beforehand and integrates history into his itineraries and narratives.

    4. Bryson writes with impeccable skill.

    5. Bryson balances mundane details with broader musings about wherever he's visiting.

    Bryson makes travel writing look easy but I don't undervalue his talent. He's funny more often than not, like when he describes the joys of tacky roadside attractions and his decision to trespass through a suburban backyard when he thinks a dog is chasing him through a park. He keeps the text moving and harmonizes the personal and cultural with respect but without sanctimony. Bryson maintains a willingness to criticize and even mock a culture when, well, the culture deserves criticism or mockery. Bryson doesn't look or sound like one might expect from a travel writer; he's a fat middle-aged guy who grew up in Iowa, not some tanned and overtly fit mountain climber with flowing locks and a beard styled to look un-styled. He can dispense with all pretense of coolness and write about his travels from a laid-back perspective.

    6.

    outlines four central messages about Australia:

    1) The country is so huge and varied that comprehending all the disparate elements as representative of one cohesive nation is very difficult.

    2) The rest of the world kind of forgets about Australia most of the time, except for New Year's Eve or whenever there's reason to show fireworks over the Sydney Opera House.

    3) You can get killed in many interesting ways there.

    4) While many white Australians are preternaturally friendly the country still shits on the Aborigines.

    Bryson faces a curious paradox when addressing Australia. When describing the country's expanse and diversity he runs the risk of repeating himself. He seems to get a little frustrated with the idea that, for example, while he doesn't have the space or time to describe all the nuances of the huge, barren bush country that comprises much of non-coastal Australia he's essentially describing, you know, the bush country over and over again. You can say “we are way out in the middle of nowhere” but communicating exactly what that means is more difficult than one can expect from even the best travel writer. Bryson does his best by adding key details (e.g. describing how much he hates the ocean and fears jellyfish) and his best is damn good. He also avoids the cliches, never once mentioning vegemite or Men at Work. I liked

    and I don't want to downplay Bryson's hard work and excellent narratives. His humility is admirable and I think he's underrated possibly because he's so damn uncool. And I'd rather drive around Australia with someone uncool but courteous and appreciative of decent hotel rooms than a guy who wants to mine the trip for hipster stories he can tell at coffee shops back home. Bryson delivers with

    . The next time my brain is slightly fried I'll work through the next book in his catalog and be happy, I imagine, I did.

  • Caroline
    May 08, 2012

    .

    A wonderful read! From belly laughs to joy, from horror to disbelief….. in this book we have a riveting journey though this amazing and oh-so-different continent. Surely there are few authors who could begin to tackle the scope of this giant hunk of land, but Bryson is a master writer, and he tackles Australia superbly well - with enthusiasm, insight and bucket loads of his wonderful self-deprecating humour.

    These were some of my favourite bits in the book:

    * His trip to White Cl

    .

    A wonderful read! From belly laughs to joy, from horror to disbelief….. in this book we have a riveting journey though this amazing and oh-so-different continent. Surely there are few authors who could begin to tackle the scope of this giant hunk of land, but Bryson is a master writer, and he tackles Australia superbly well - with enthusiasm, insight and bucket loads of his wonderful self-deprecating humour.

    These were some of my favourite bits in the book:

    * His trip to White Cliffs, in opal mining territory, where the temperature gets up to 110F, and people live in cave dwellings in order to keep cool.

    * His drive in Victoria along the coast, an area famous for shipwrecks.

    *His discussion of ‘acclimatization’ (the introduction of non-indigenous animals to Australia). The mad proliferation of rabbits – halted for a while by the introduction of the horrible illness Myxomatosis, but now numbers are increasing again. Other introductions include camels, donkeys and foxes. (There are now five million wild donkeys in Australia).

    Foreign plants have also been introduced.

    *His respect and awe for the Aborigines, who are likely to have come to Australia about 60,000 years ago. Their amazing capacity for survival in difficult environments. His disbelief in the way they were treated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (they were often hunted down and shot, like animals), and his concern for their well-being today.

    *His description of the wonders of The Great Barrier Reef. I had no idea it was so big

    Swimming over it was a scary experience.

    *His stories about men obsessed with exploring the horrendously hostile interior of Australia.

    Some of these explorers returned from their adventures in the interior, but many didn’t.

    *The degree to which he was bowled over and awed by Ayers Rock (now called Uluru, its Aborigine name). He writes very movingly about the experience of seeing it.

    *His story about Kingsford Smith - an Australian pilot - who he reckons is the greatest aviator ever. Just a year after Charles Lindbergh made his famous flight across the Atlantic, Kingsford Smith became the first man to cross the Pacific – a far, far tougher challenge than the Atlantic… Bryson’s description of the trip is grip-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting.

    ~~~~

    All in all a wonderful book. I feel I really got a taste of the flavour of Australia. Bravo Bryson! I enjoyed it tons.

  • Diane
    Oct 25, 2012

    I love Australia, even though I have never been there. It has amazing wilderness and is the setting of beautiful movies; it exports talented actors, actresses and directors; it has that Great Barrier Reef thingy, which is apparently so wonderful that is is a Natural Wonder of the World; and it is home to the stunning Sydney Opera House. And oh yeah, Aussies gave us UGGs. So we have a lot to thank them for.

    Bill Bryson also loved Australia, so much so that he spent months touring its cities and th

    I love Australia, even though I have never been there. It has amazing wilderness and is the setting of beautiful movies; it exports talented actors, actresses and directors; it has that Great Barrier Reef thingy, which is apparently so wonderful that is is a Natural Wonder of the World; and it is home to the stunning Sydney Opera House. And oh yeah, Aussies gave us UGGs. So we have a lot to thank them for.

    Bill Bryson also loved Australia, so much so that he spent months touring its cities and the Outback. Bryson employed his usual humor in this travelogue, and numerous sections had me laughing out loud, sometimes embarrassingly so. But he would also wax rhapsodic about how amazing the land was:

    Bryson gets into his fair share of scrapes during his Australian journey, and at one point he and his traveling companion are in danger of running out of both fuel and water while in the Outback. Luckily, no serious harm was done.

    Another close encounter was with a bluebottle jellyfish. Bryson and his guide, Deirdre, were boogie boarding at Freshwater Beach near Manly, when Deirdre suddenly grabbed Bryson's arm and stopped him from advancing toward the "bluey," as Deirdre called it. At the time, Bryson didn't know what she meant by "bluey."

    HAHAHA! Bryson is a hoot, you guys. There is so much more great stuff in this book, and I could type out pages of other funny stories, but I shall leave you to discover it for yourself. Like all of his travelogues, he shares interesting historical details about the places he visits, and he's good at making fun of himself and his bumbling ways. I enjoyed this so much and I laughed so hard and so often that this has become one of my favorite Bryson books. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to Bryson narrate this. It's marvelous.

    My rating: 4.5 stars rounded up to 5

  • Andrew Smith
    Feb 06, 2014

    Having travelled briefly through parts of Queensland and New South Wales several years ago, I'd been waiting to catch up with Bryson's book ever since. I now wish I'd read it before I travelled or even during the trip itself. It's full interesting information and ideas for places to visit and gave me loads of laughs. A really good read whether you're planning a trip or just looking to enjoy BB's hilariously entertaining anecdotes.

    I've read a few of his books in the past and I do find him to be

    Having travelled briefly through parts of Queensland and New South Wales several years ago, I'd been waiting to catch up with Bryson's book ever since. I now wish I'd read it before I travelled or even during the trip itself. It's full interesting information and ideas for places to visit and gave me loads of laughs. A really good read whether you're planning a trip or just looking to enjoy BB's hilariously entertaining anecdotes.

    I've read a few of his books in the past and I do find him to be an interesting companion, as I've travelled with him. His books on visits to the UK in particular are great fun (even if he pokes fun at some places quite close to my heart). I'm not sure how accurate some of his adventures are - they seem a bit tuned for laughs to me - but that's ok, it's what you pick up a book like this for I think.

    I'd recommend this book to anyone thinking about a trip to Oz or readers who just enjoy tales of travel and amusing things that can happen when you're in the hands of a natural raconteur.

  • Jason Koivu
    Jul 02, 2015

    I love Bill Bryson. Yep, it's a full-blown, one-sided bromance. Bryson could write a book about the history of the individual rooms within the typical house and I would love it (he did and I did)! So, when I discovered he'd written about his experiences while traveling Australia, I knew I'd found my next good read!

    takes in the Land Down-Under, from today traveling all the way back to its earliest historical findings. You expect and get a look at modern Australia, its UK-c

    I love Bill Bryson. Yep, it's a full-blown, one-sided bromance. Bryson could write a book about the history of the individual rooms within the typical house and I would love it (he did and I did)! So, when I discovered he'd written about his experiences while traveling Australia, I knew I'd found my next good read!

    takes in the Land Down-Under, from today traveling all the way back to its earliest historical findings. You expect and get a look at modern Australia, its UK-convict days, Sydney and other cities, the bush, the outback, and the plight, trials and importance of the aborigines.

    All of the above also comes with a healthy dose of Bryson humor. It's self-deprecating, it's consciously delusional for comedy's sake, it's honest and it gives me the chuckles. I appreciate that he puts himself in awkward situations and really enjoy his description of scenes in which he is a participating victim. Australia has countless ways to kill a person, what with all its deadly animals, so there's plenty of opportunity for hair-raising hilarity, especially considering Bryson's the sort of guy who could get himself savaged by a hedgehog.

    Fun is fun and all, but in the end this book is about the learning, so if you have an interest in learning more about Australia I couldn't recommend another book more highly. The author has a love for learning, as well as the subject at hand, so the reader is treated to a veritable love-fest spewed all over the pages of

    !

  • Roy Lotz
    Aug 08, 2015

    Every year (more or less), I take a trip up to New Brunswick, Canada, on a family vacation. To get there from New York means about 10 hours in the car; and once you’re there, it is an hour and a half round trip to get groceries—not counting time in the store—and this is a trip that must be made about every other day, since the only fridge we have is small, weak, alarmingly old, and runs on propane. The point is, we have to spend a goodly number of hours in the car.

    Thus, I have gotten into the ha

    Every year (more or less), I take a trip up to New Brunswick, Canada, on a family vacation. To get there from New York means about 10 hours in the car; and once you’re there, it is an hour and a half round trip to get groceries—not counting time in the store—and this is a trip that must be made about every other day, since the only fridge we have is small, weak, alarmingly old, and runs on propane. The point is, we have to spend a goodly number of hours in the car.

    Thus, I have gotten into the habit of downloading a few audiobooks for the trip; and this year, Bill Bryson was my man. I’d listened to his recording of

    before (it is an abridged recording, unfortunately), so I knew that he had a lovely voice. If you haven’t heard him speak, I’d recommend searching him on YouTube; he has a delightful transatlantic accent—owing to his long stay in England, combined with his American roots—and this gives his dorky, awkward persona a sort of extra layer of fragile charm. He sounds like a delicate man, not one for thrills or even serious exertion, but very clever and sharp, rather like someone it would be nice to have a drink with.

    I hit play on my phone and we began to drive. It was an excellent start to a vacation. Bryson’s prose is bubbling and lively; and it’s endearing to hear the poor author have to pronounce some of his extravagant word choices. Besides his usual writing prowess, I must say that in this book he chose his subject very well. Bryson begins by emphasizing—and he really knows how to emphasize a point—how little Australia is discussed in the media. And I realized, with a bit of an embarrassed shock, that he’s right: I knew only a handful of facts about Australia, some of which I wasn’t even too sure about. For example, I didn’t even know the name of Australia’s capital; and, really, that’s a bit shameful for someone who normally considers himself a relatively cultured person. (It’s Canberra, by the way.)

    As Bryson does, he begins his bumbling travels, managing to make even simple tasks like finding a hotel or falling asleep in a car seem Homeric. And as usual, Bryson weaves frequent and lengthy digressions into the narrative of his journey, delving into Australia’s economy, history, biology, sports, politics, local legends—you name it, Bryson will likely give you a neat anecdote about it.

    Perhaps due to his journalistic training, Bryson has a fascination for all things deadly. Just as in

    , where he includes several ways that humanity might actually be made extinct, so here Bryson lets his taste for the macabre run rampant with Australia’s impressive collection of dangerous critters. Plentiful and poisonous snakes, spiders, and jellyfish; big and hungry sharks and crocodiles; and even some malicious species of plants—it seems that Australia is not a welcoming environment. Australia’s weather is not any better, as Bryson makes clear with his many stories of the explorers who attempted to brave Australia’s hot and empty innards—many of them, as Bryson gleefully points out, woefully and hilariously unprepared.

    Another journalistic habit of his is his fascination with gaps. He spends page after page hammering home the extent to which Australia is huge, vast, empty, and to a large extent unexplored. With the instinct of a trained reporter, Bryson focuses in wherever there is something unexplained, unknown, unclear, or even just poorly understood. When Bryson is lucky, this leads him to some neglected piece of history, such as the impressive career of aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. But often Bryson runs up against a dead end, such as the disappearance of Australian Prime Minster, Harold Holt, who took a swim while in office, never to be seen again. Considering that this poor fellow likely drowned and was then eaten by some large aquatic animal, this makes Bryson doubly curious, for it involves both death and mystery.

    Well, I must say that I had a great time with Bryson, and I’m sad our shared trip has come to an end. One of us has to go back to work. I had a few good laughs, and, perhaps more importantly, now I know more about Australia than ever before—which I suppose isn’t saying much, but it’s something. But still I must admit that I’m left with one dreadful unanswered question. I need to know: is it good or bad to drink your own urine when you’re stranded in a hot environment with no water? Bryson mentions somewhere that it’s not a good idea (although many have done it), because urine has a high sodium content; so it’s counterproductive, and will only speed up dehydration. But there are plenty of stories of people successfully drinking their own urine to survive. My suspicion is that, if you’re relatively well-hydrated to begin with so your urine is watery, it wouldn’t be too bad; but if you kept repeating the process, you would get diminishing returns, owing to higher and higher levels of waste products. Can anyone help me answer this question?


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