Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

“Are we done?”

Re-reading Eric Newby’s ‘Short walk in the Hindu Kush’ put me in a travel-writing frame of mind, so I shamelessly grabbed a Bill Bryson off the shelves. Never lets you down. Here he is on the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Michigan, which is

…filled with the most indescribable assortment of stuff – machinery, railway trains, refrigerators, Abraham Lincoln’s rocking-chair, the limousine in which John F. Kennedy was killed (nope, no bits of brain on the floor), George Washington’s campaign chest, General Tom Thumb’s ornate miniature billiard-table, a bottle containing Thomas Edison’s last breath. I found this last item particularly captivating. Apart from being ridiculously morbid and sentimental, how did they know which breath was going to be Edison’s last one? I pictured Henry Ford standing at the death-bed shoving a bottle in his face over and over and saying, ‘Is that it?’


On the origin of pigeons

Found myself watching Creation the other night – a dramatisation of Charles Darwin’s life during the years leading up to the publication of The Origin of Species,  almost undoubtedly the single most important scientific publication of the 19th Century. By pure chance, the following day I caught up with Mr Darwin again, in my progress thru’ Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, where the relevant chapter begins:



I guess that’s a Victorian version of the mythical ‘man who turned down The Beatles’. Or the talent spotter who famously summarised Fred Astaire: “Can’t act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little.”

In the event, Darwin insisted they go ahead, and The Origin became an instant hit, selling out its entire 1250 first print run on the day of publication.  (Though it was supplanted in popularity by his subsequent The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms (1881).)