The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America

( 45 )

Overview

An unsparing and hilarious account of one man's rediscovery of America and his search for the perfect small town.

An inspiring and hilarious account of one man's rediscovery of America and his search for the perfect small town.

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Overview

An unsparing and hilarious account of one man's rediscovery of America and his search for the perfect small town.

An inspiring and hilarious account of one man's rediscovery of America and his search for the perfect small town.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Michele Slung
Inspired by a fit of trans-Atlantic nostalgia to go out and ''look for America,'' Mr. Bryson slogs from state to state (38 in all), rarely being anything other than glumly disappointed by what he finds....It's unfortunate, but once the joyless tone of 'The Lost Continent'' is set, one has the sensation of being the sort of hitchhiker found usually in the Twilight Zone - locked in a car with a boor at the wheel and the radio tuned to static. -- New York Times
From the Publisher
"Bryson is one of the funniest travel writers in the business." --The Globe and Mail
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060920081
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/1990
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 123,149
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.72 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the bestselling author of At Home, A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, winner of the Aventis Prize. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.

Biography

A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
      1951
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can't wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.

Hardly anyone ever leaves. This is because Des Moines is the most powerful hypnotic known to man. Outside town there is a big sign that says, WELCOME TO DES MOINES. THIS IS WHAT DEATH IS LIKE. There isn't really. I just made that up. But the place does get a grip on you. People who have nothing to do with Des Moines drive in off the interstate, looking for gas or hamburgers, and stay forever. There's a New Jersey couple up the street from my parents' house whom you see wandering around from time to time looking faintly puzzled but strangely serene. Everybody in Des Moines is strangely serene.

The only person I ever knew in Des Moines who wasn't serene was Mr. Piper. Mr. Piper was my parents' neighbor, a leering, cherry-faced idiot who was forever getting drunk and crashing his car into telephone poles. Everywhere you went you encountered telephone poles and road signs leaning dangerously in testimony to Mr. Piper's driving habits. He distributed them all over the west side of town rather in the way dogs mark trees. Mr. Piper was the nearest possible human equivalent to Fred Flintstone, but less charming. He was a Shrinerand a Republican — a Nixon Republican — and he appeared to feel he had a mission in life to spread offense. His favorite pastime, apart from getting drunk and crashing his car, was to get drunk and insult the neighbors, particularly us because we were Democrats, though he was prepared to insult Republicans when we weren't available.

Eventually, I grew up and moved to England. This irritated Mr. Piper almost beyond measure. It was worse than being a Democrat. Whenever I was in town, Mr. Piper would come over and chide me. "I don't know what you're doing over there with all those Limeys," he would say provocatively. "They're not clean people."

"Mr. Piper, you don't know what you're talking about," I would reply in my affected British accent. "You are a cretin." You could talk like that to Mr. Piper because (1) he was a cretin and (2) he never listened to anything that was said to him.

"Bobbi and I went over to London two years ago and our hotel room didn't even have a bathroom in it," Mr. Piper would go on. "If you wanted to take a leak in the middle of the night you had to walk about a mile down the hallway. That isn't a clean way to live."

"Mr. Piper, the English are paragons of cleanliness. It is a well-known fact that they use more soap per capita than anyone else in Europe."

Mr. Piper would snort derisively at this. "That doesn't mean diddly-squat, boy, just because they're cleaner than a bunch of Krauts and Eye-ties. My God, a dog's cleaner than a bunch of Krauts and Eye-ties. And I'll tell you something else: If his daddy hadn't bought Illinois for him, John F. Kennedy would never have been elected president."

I had lived around Mr. Piper long enough not to be thrown by this abrupt change of tack. The theft of the 1960 presidential election was a longstanding plaint of his, one that he brought into the conversation every ten or twelve minutes regardless of the prevailing drift of the discussion. In 1963, during Kennedy's funeral, someone in the Waveland Tap punched Mr. Piper in the nose for making that remark. Mr. Piper was so furious that he went straight out and crashed his car into a telephone pole. Mr. Piper is dead now, which is of course one thing that Des Moines prepares you for.

When I was growing up I used to think that the best thing about coming from Des Moines was that it meant you didn't come from anywhere else in Iowa. By Iowa standards, Des Moines is a mecca of cosmopolitanism, a dynamic hub of wealth and education, Where people wear three-piece suits and dark socks, often simultaneously. During the annual state high-school basketball tournament, when the hayseeds from out in the state would flood into the city for a week, we used to accost them downtown and snidely offer to show them how to ride an escalator or negotiate a revolving door. This wasn't always so far from reality. My friend Stan, when he was about sixteen, had to go and stay with his cousin in some remote, dusty hamlet called Dog Water or Dunceville or some such improbable spot — the kind of place where if a dog gets run over by a truck everybody goes out to have a look at it. By the second week, delirious with boredom, Stan insisted that he and his cousin drive the fifty miles into the county town, Hooterville, and find something to do. They went bowling at an alley with warped lanes and chipped balls and afterwards had a chocolate soda and looked at a Playboy in a drugstore, and on the way home the cousin sighed with immense satisfaction and said, "Gee thanks, Stan. That was the best time I ever had in my whole life!" It's true.

I had to drive to Minneapolis once, and I went on a back road just to see the country. But there was nothing to see...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 45 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(17)

4 Star

(12)

3 Star

(6)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 3, 2009

    Sorry, Bill....

    First and foremost, Bill Bryson has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I've read all but two of his books and have enjoyed each one of the immensely. This book is as well written as any other in his catalog, showcasing the Bryson-esque sense of humor and witty prose I've come to love. BUT, with that being said...I rated this two stars because I had to stop reading after the first 50 pages or so. Not because it isn't well written, but because it seemed entirely too mean spirited. Bryson comes across as a scholarly expatriate returning to the U.S. with the conception that his education and cultural learnings somehow deem him superior to the "regular" folks he meets. The point at which I stopped reading was this quote directly from the book regarding the seemingly backward pronunciation of town names in Kentucky: "I don't know whether the people in these towns pronounce them that way because they are backward, undereducated ****kickers who don't know any better or whether they know better but don't care that everybody thinks they are backward undereducated ****kickers." Sorry, Bill...but this is just a mean book.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2007

    A reviewer

    Lost Continent: Well a couple years ago I read Bill Bryson's book Neither Here nor There and it was a hilarious guide through Europe. So when I saw Lost Continent on the shelves I instantly wanted to read about Bill's road trip through the U.S. Within the first five pages I was chuckling to myself and out loud. (Luckily Jon was the only one sitting next to me on the plane as I read) By the time the hour and a half flight touched back down on the ground I had polished off quite a few pages. As the book went on I began to feel less enamored with the book than I initially had. The tone shifted from funny to cranky as the trip/book wore on. Now I wonder if it is the fact that the trip began to take its toll on Bryson or if he felt that crotchety was a good tone for him to switch to-we may never know. Overall if you were to sample some of Bryson's work I would absolutley recommend Neither Here nor There over Lost Continent . Neither Here nor There gives you a hilarious and personal guide through Europe whereas Lost Continent really helps you remember what it was like to take loooong car rides with your parents-the good and the bad.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2005

    Maybe some people just don't get it

    I thought this book was hilarious and found his criticisms to be right on the money. Small town America ain't what it used to be (and I'm old enough to remember), so Bryson is telling it like it is. I've already bought 5 copies to give to friends and believe that they will read it in the spirit in which it was written.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2002

    Has he ever been to any of these places?

    Not only was this book mean spirited, as has bee noted already, I have issues as to whether Bryson had even been in most of these places. I have lived in Iowa, Illinois, Nevada, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Places such as Mount Pleasant and Keokuk, Iowa, were grossly misrepresented by Bryson. Carbondale, Illinois, is not just a strip of hotels and fast food as he says. He doen't seem to grasp the highway concept. The town does not resat on the highway, those are just facilities for the people who do wish to go into town. It is a college town for God's sake, you think he woul have found that out. Worst of all, the road he travels between Columbus and Tupelo, Mississippi, which he describes as being covered with run down shacks with black people sitting on the porch is false. I have driven that road many times in my life, from the time before he wrote this book to last week, and it just isn't there. Nobody lives on that road or has in my lifetime. It is tree lined and nice and enjoyable. There are many other gross minrepresentations and out and out lies in this book. Bryson is obviously just pandering to what people expect out of these places instead of actually going there and reporting the truth himself.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2002

    Not the Author's Best Work

    Unlike the many other Bryson books I have loved and laughed and nodded sagely at, I found this book a bit mean spirited, as though an elitist snit was looking down his nose at any and all who didn't measure up to his personal idea of what the world he neglected for 20 years (by choice) of living in England should choose to evolve. Obviously, it hadn't evolved (or DEvolved) as Bryson preferred. A man who writes things like: 'Why is it, I wondered, that old people are always so self-centered and excitable? But I just smiled benignly and stood back, comforted by the thought that soon they would be dead.', ought NOT, repeat NOT, announce his political affiliations with equal parts pride of it, and disdain for the other major party, early on in such a book as this. I really didn't enjoy this read very much. Luckily, it's one of his earlier works. The latter stuff is much, much better.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    cynical but funny...

    I love Bill Bryson. He's slightly cynical and quick to voice his (many) disappointments but he's funny. In The Lost Continent Bill travels around America from town to town and details for us readers all his hardships and the occasional bit of pleasure. Bill seems to find something to dislike in many of the towns he travels through but he never loses hope that his next destination will live up to all his expectations. And it sometimes does! I thoroughly enjoyed chuckling my way this travelogue.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Hilarious!

    I thought The Lost Continent was very funny! It is, as is all of Bryson's work, sarcastic and biting at times. It is definately for the irreverent among us! He is equally disparaging of every place he visits, so no one area/ state/ region should feel singled out for his acerbic wit.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2007

    The shoe is on the other foot

    It's amusing to me that so many readers have enjoyed Bryson's humor at the expense of other nations, and yet are quite indignant when he turns his attention to the U.S. His observations are no more or less true here than they were in other books. The U.S. has much to recommend it, but it also has it's share of flaws and foibles which Bryson points out using his trademark wit and tongue-in-cheek criticism.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2004

    TRAVEL FROM YOUR ARMCHAIR

    Gee whiz. I was really enjoying this book, and couldn't wait to get back to the last two chapters.Then I read the customer reviews here, and I was wondering if I missed something. I thoroughly enjoyed it and did not want it to end. Granted, Bill is a bit of a Curmudgeon, but, he has a good sense of humor. Take a good look around you next time you travel, and I believe you will agree with his description of most tourists. This is the third Bryson I have read, and I can't wait to read another.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2001

    What is so special?

    I recently drove from Wyoming to New York and I could have written a better book. Does this guy like anyone? I throughly enjoyed my trip across the country and everyone I met had a story...he could have developed his story more. I felt no imagery and it made America sound dull and boring. Who would ever want to drive across the United States after reading this book?

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 4, 2014

    In this book, Bryson is at his grouchy peak as the traveling cur

    In this book, Bryson is at his grouchy peak as the traveling curmudgeonly commentator winding his way through a clutch of different states on a long road trip to see what America is like after being away for some time.

    You either roll with the comic exaggeration for effect (reminding one of the style of Robert Benchley), and enjoy the ride, or you flat-out hate the grousing and put-downs of (mostly) small-town backroads places. I took it in good-natured stride. My travels hit a lot of the places he describes, though I have much fonder memories of nearly all of them.

    Overall, he hits on the differences between regions and states and places to see, while recalling past family road trips. He contrasts the things of the past with how they are now.

    For a trip down memory lane and across our vast land, I say this is useful and fun, when taken in the right spirit.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Great

    Great book. Bryson is always entertaining.

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  • Posted March 23, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    If you are looking for a non-fiction book, this is one for you t

    If you are looking for a non-fiction book, this is one for you to certainly skip. I haven't been everywhere that he writes about in the book, of course, but I am from Philadelphia originally and know that many of the things he presents as facts are blatantly wrong. It makes me wonder if anything in the book that he says about other parts of the country are correct! Also, even though his sarcasm is meant to be funny a lot of the time it just comes across as hateful. Overall I think the best thing about the book is that it's not too long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

    Not recommended

    Not his best writing. Too dated and didn't catch the reader's interest.

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Laugh out loud!

    I purchased this for my husband! He chuckled through most of this book~ Bill Bryson has done it again! My husband is from the midwest and especially enjoyed Bill travels through the heartland.

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  • Posted September 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Lost Continent, Found America

    I've read many Bill Bryson books, and this one relates with the rest because of his witty humor and critical demeanor of the values that should be and are not in America. You learn alot about small town America without leaving your own town, and become inspired to see what else abounds past your town line. It's an enjoyable read for anyone.

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  • Posted August 22, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    I'm a reader, not a reviewer

    It's no Blue Highways but it was an enjoyable read. I enjoy Bryson's writing; his intelligence and dry sense of humor and wry observations. I feel that Bryson could make a description of watching paint dry entertaining as he does in this book; not describing paint drying but describing the mundane aspects of travel in the U.S. A tad harsh on the average "fat tourist" and a little negative overall but an entertaining read worth your money and your time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2004

    Grouch on the Move

    This is my first Bryson book and I was appalled at the perspective, not being able to imagine someone enjoying it. As a take on small-towns or America in general it's completely mean-spirited. Place after place is boring, tourists are fat and ugly, sequoias look silly, tourists are still fat and ugly, etc. I don't know why a book about not enjoying traveling or discovering anything along the way even qualifies as a travel book. It'll be a while before I look at anything else he's written.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2003

    Loved two of his other books; disappointed with this one

    After loving "In a Sunburned Country" and "A Walk in the Woods" I was very shocked at the excessive negativity and the constant, shrill obesity jokes. It's too bad, really, as small pieces of the book are hilarious and right on the mark. I couldn't really let myself enjoy it because as soon as I did, a really nasty and cruel comment would come out of nowhere. Too bad!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2002

    Humor definitely NOT Small Town!

    Wonderfully humorous mickey take of American small town life. As a cynical London Brit living in the U.S. I adore the man's "English" dark humor. The ability to laugh at oneself is the epitome of good taste!

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