Notes from a Small Island

( 30 )


Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes From a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.

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Notes from a Small Island

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Veering from the ludicrous to the endearing and back again, Notes From a Small Island is a delightfully irreverent jaunt around the unparalleled floating nation that has produced zebra crossings, Shakespeare, Twiggie Winkie's Farm, and places with names like Farleigh Wallop and Titsey.

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Editorial Reviews

USA Today
Hilarious and observant.
Sunday Express
A book suffused with the sheer joy of being alive.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A fond, funny portrait of Britain ... [There are] belly laughs to befound in Notes from a Small Island ... a kind of Dave Barry-meets-Paul Theroux in a British commuter train.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Notes from a Small Island is, like its subject matter, a delight.
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Irreverent observations ... deliciously satirical wit...In this tour of Britain, you can find no better companion than Bill Bryson.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Before his return to the U.S. after a 20-year residence in England, journalist Bryson (Made in America) embarked on a farewell tour of his adopted homeland. His trenchant, witty and detailed observations of life in a variety of towns and villages will delight Anglophiles. Traveling only on public transportation and hiking whenever possible, Bryson wandered along the coast through Bournemouth and neighboring villages that reinforced his image of Britons as a people who rarely complain and are delighted by such small pleasures as a good tea. In Liverpool, the author's favorite English city, he visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum to experience its past as a great port. Interweaving descriptions of landscapes and everyday encounters with shopkeepers, pub customers and fellow travelers, Bryson shares what he loves best about the idiosyncrasies of everyday English life in this immensely entertaining travel memoir. Author tour. (May)
Library Journal
Bryson, who hails from Iowa, has spent the last 20 years living in England and writing about the often nettlesome relationship between his two countries, especially regarding their shared language (Made in America, LJ 2/1/95). His latest work is "a kind of valedictory tour around the green and kindly island" before he moved with his family back to the United States. With Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea in hand, Bryson braves the inhospitably soggy fall weather to trudge from Dover, London, coastal villages, Wales, Scotland, and back home to Yorkshire on a helter-skelter seven-week journey that only a reader well versed in the geography of the region will follow, since there are no maps to aid the (American) reader. In fact, Bryson is writing here more for his British fans, who no doubt roar with mirth as he gently pokes fun at their excessive forbearance and fondness for Cagney and Lacey repeats. He is hilarious when transcribing a conversation with unsuspecting locals, especially in Glaswegian pubs, but merely dumb when he indulges in a curious (is it British?) bathroom humor. His portrait is certainly heartfelt, and one wonders, as he chokes up describing a stately, vanishing old England, if he will truly find happiness watching the 67 television channels in his native land. For all travel collections.-Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
A combination travel guide and loving crack at the mannered manners of Britain written by journalist and long-time resident Bryson whose whirlwind trip around the island before his return to America yielded a number of witty essays on life, love, and beer. Traveling by public transit, Bryson zips from Liverpool to Stonehenge to Farleigh Wallop documenting searches for restaurants, pub discoveries, and a "litter festival" in Liverpool. Lacks an index, but a glossary is provided with such gems as the definition of berk (a jerk, though the etymology is more ribald than one would imagine). Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
After two decades as a resident of England, Bryson (Made in America, 1995, etc.) bids a very fond farewell to that sceptered isle, to that promontory of clotted cream.

Before returning to his native America, Bryson launched himself on a seven-week peregrination through the hills and dells, the High Streets and hedgerows of England, Wales, and Scotland. As always, he found most of the towns and the hummocks very much to his liking, indeed. And who wouldn't smile broadly wandering through the environs of Horton in Ribblesdale or Giggleswick or journeying to Milton Keynes (which is, be assured, a place, not an economist)? The main trick to successful hiking, the author knows, is to take a bus or train or rent a car frequently between the beds and breakfasts—the latter being full English and full cholesterol. Of course, not all he encountered was wonderful. "Bradford's role in life," he notes, "is to make every place else look better in comparison, and it does this very well." "Blackpool's Illuminations," he says, "are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid." British Rail and the ubiquitous Marks & Spencer are not favorites, either. Bryson also has an eye, unsurpassed by that of Prince Charles himself, for nasty architecture, especially shopping centers. Despite those dark, satanic malls, England delights him. He asks, "can there anywhere on earth be, in such a modest span, a landscape more packed with centuries of busy, productive attainment?" The spelling is American, the writing is English (fat folk are seen to "Hoover up" their comestibles), and the wit is genuine.

A diverting travel journal, for Anglophiles especially. A short glossary (translating such terms as "knickers," "loo," and "George Formby") is provided. A map of the journey (not included) would have been nice, luv. But all in all, a tasty crumpet.

From the Publisher
“Bill Bryson is a funny writer…doubled over belly shakes and seltzer through the nose funny.”
Globe and Mail

“The year’s best travel book…funny and witty and truthful.”
Toronto Sun

“The funniest book I read this year – winded by its humor, tears on the cheeks.”
Ottawa Citizen

“Bryson is first and foremost a storyteller – and a supremely comic and original one at that.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“A kind of Dave Barry-meets-Paul Theroux in a British commuter train.”
Sunday Express

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380727506
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 86,556
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson's bestselling books include One Summer, A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home, A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here nor There, Made in America, and The Mother Tongue. He lives in England with his wife.


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:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

There are certain idiosyncratic notions that you quietly come to accept when you live for a long time in Britain. One is that British summers used to be longer and sunnier. Another is that the England soccer team shouldn't have any trouble with Norway. A third is the idea that Britain is a big place. This last is easily the most intractable.

If you mention in the pub that you intend to drive from, say, Surrey to Cornwall, a distance that most Americans would happily go to get a taco, your companions will puff their cheeks, look knowingly at each other, and blow out air as if to say, "Well, now, that's a bit of a tall order," and then they'll launch into a lively and protracted discussion of whether it's better to take the A30 to Stockbridge and then the A303 to Ilchester, or the A361 to Glastonbury via Shepton Mallet. Within minutes the conversation will plunge off into a level of detail that leaves you, as a foreigner, swiveling your head in quiet wonderment.

"You know that lay-by outside Warminster, the one with the grit box with the broken handle?" one of them will say. "You know, just past the turnoff for Little Puking but before the B6029 miniroundabout."

At this point, you find you are the only person in the group not nodding vigorously.

"Well, about a quarter of a mile past there, not the first left turning but the second one, there's a lane between two hedgerows — they're mostly hawthorn but with a little hazel mixed in. Well, if you follow that road past the reservoir and under the railway bridge, and take a sharpright at the Buggered Ploughman —"

"Nice little pub," somebody will interject — usually, for some reason, a guy in a bulky cardigan. "They do a decent pint of Old Toejam."

"— and follow the dirt track through the army firing range and round the back of the cement works, it drops down onto the B3689 Ram's Dropping bypass. It saves a good three or four minutes and cuts out the rail crossing at Great Shagging."

"Unless, of course, you're coming from Crewkerne," someone else will add knowledgeably. "Now, if you're coming from Crewkerne..."

Give two or more men in a pub the names of any two places in Britain and they can happily fill hours. Wherever it is you want to go, the consensus is generally that it's just about possible as long as you scrupulously avoid Okehampton, the North Circular in London, and the Severn Bridge westbound between the hours of 3 P.M. on Friday and 10 A.M. on Monday, except bank holidays when you shouldn't go anywhere at all. "Me, I don't even walk to the corner shop on bank holidays," some little guy on the margins will chirp up proudly, as if by staying at home in Clapham he has for years cannily avoided a notorious bottleneck at Scotch Corner.

Eventually, when the intricacies of B-roads, contraflow blackspots, and good places to get a bacon sandwich have been discussed so thoroughly that your ears have begun to seep blood, one member of the party will turn to you and idly ask over a sip of beer when you were thinking of setting off. When this happens, you must never answer truthfully and say, in that kind of dopey way of yours, "Oh, I don't know, about ten, I suppose," because they'll all be off again.

"Ten o'clock?" one of them will say and try to back his head off his shoulders. "As in ten o'clock A.M.?" He'll make a face. "Well, it's entirely up to you, of course, but personally if I was planning to be in Cornwall by three o'clock tomorrow, I'd have left yesterday."

"Yesterday?" someone else will say, chortling softly at this misplaced optimism. "I think you're forgetting, Colin, that it's half term for schools in North Wiltshire and West Somerset this week. It'll be murder between Swindon and Warminster. No, you want to have left a week last Tuesday."

"And there's the Great West Steam Rally and Tractor Pull at Little Dribbling this weekend," somebody from across the room will add, strolling over to join you because it's always pleasant to bring bad motoring news. "There'll be three hundred and seventy-five thousand cars all converging on the Little Chef roundabout at Upton Dupton. We once spent eleven days in a tailback there, and that was just to get out of the car park. No, you want to have left when you were still in your mother's womb, or preferably while you were spermatozoa, and even then you won't find a parking space beyond Bodmin."

Once, when I was younger, I took all these alarming warnings to heart. I went home, reset the alarm clock, roused the family at four to protests and general consternation, and had everyone bundled into the car and on the road by five. As a result, we were in Newquay in time for breakfast and had to wait around for seven hours before the holiday park would let us have one of its wretched chalets. And the worst of it was that I'd only agreed to go there because I thought the town was called Nookie and I wanted to stock up on postcards.

The fact is that the British have a totally private sense of distance. This is most visibly seen in the shared pretense that Britain is a lonely island in the middle of an empty green sea. Of course, the British are all aware, in an abstract sort of way, that there is a substantial landmass called Europe nearby and that from time to time it is necessary to go over there to give old Jerry a drubbing or have a holiday in the sun...

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2000

    Don't Trust Them, They're Up to Something

    As an Englishman in Houston, I recommend this book to everyone who says 'I keep meaning to go there'. The daily annoyances and minutiae of English life are well dealt with, and I had to fill the stereotype by laughing at myself. Bryson is saddened by the English ability to do away with fine architecture, and fine life, in search of something more modern, but the most surprising thing -- except to an Englishman -- is how little has changed since George Mikes wrote 'How to be an Alien' sixty years ago (not available in the US; try

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    A wonderful read

    This book brought back memories of visiting southern England. Having read several of Bill Bryson's books, I knew I would not be disappointed. I will be sharing this with a few friends who are his fans, too.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Must-Read for any Anglophile

    I had already read Bryson's A Walk in the Woods when I picked up this one for my trip over to England for a few weeks. I always like to read when I travel. Soon, I found out that I had selected the perfect book for a trip to England. Bryson has this amazing way with words that can actually make a reader laugh out loud-- it's not every day I can find myself on a plane or the Tube with ipod buds in my ears, a book in my hand, and laughing a bit too loudly for the people seated around me.

    For one, being in the same country Bryson is writing about only adds to the hilarity of his stories. I could chuckle right along with him, feeling as though he's giving me a knowing nudge, when he writes about the enormity of the English breakfast (beans? for breakfast? really?). Or, even better, when in London, he says, watch the ground for a gentle reminder that, in England, you must "Look Right" when you step off the curb. (For those of us from the States, we should look left in our home country.)

    I'm glad this was a book I picked to read during my trip. I don't think I could have found a better selection. This Bryson travel memoir is, by far, my favorite. And I love all of his books.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2002

    A Different Look at Britain

    This book was very funny and entertaining. Bill Bryson is extremely witty and sarcastic about all of his different experiences he lives through while touring Britain. I lived in England and have read Bryson's other works, so I tried this one out. I think you must be British or very familiar with the culture to fully appreciate this book. Bryson visits the big cities, but also many small towns that I have never heard of, and therefore found hard to imagine. My lack of British knowledge did not gravely affect my enjoying this book very much. Bryson retells his traveling experiences that we all can relate to, and others that we can be glad never happened to us. This book delves deep into the British culture; past London and Dover, and into samll towns and seaside resorts. Bryson also includes his take on life, lightheartedly criticizing different groups of people and expressing his admiration or exasperation regarding these people. I found this book thoroughly enjoyable and a light, funny, and educational read. I recommend this book to the traveled person who has an appreciation for the English culture.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2015

    Frankly this misses and does not encourage one to visit

    And public transportation and scenic hiking and surprise surprise taverns are found in wisconsin this was no doubt funny in great britian he might have tried to rediscover his own country in different areas

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Wonderful Journey through Great Britain

    This book is like a pleasant hike through the English countryside, filled with humor and insights into why we refer to this tiny island as "Great" Britain. It's full of hilarious anecdotes and random information that will certainly give you something to share at your next dinner party or even around the water-cooler at work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2009


    I purchased this book to read while on vacation in England. The author's comments are occasionally interesting and funny. However there was much unecessary crudity mixed into his experiences. I ended up throwing the book away.

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 25, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    amusing romp...

    Bill Bryson is witty, humorous and entertaining. His farewell tour of Britain is charming. He travels from the south of England all the way up to the tip of Scotland on an amusing romp around Britain before he returns to his native soil (Iowa) with his family. I've only visited Britain once but this book really made me nostalgic for it. This is my first Bill Bryson book but I can guarantee it won't be my last!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2007

    Must read for Anglophiles

    I purchased Notes from a Small Island before we left for a week in Scotland. It was so cleverly written and highly amusing that I was laughing at loud at London Heathrow while my husband fumed about layovers, airlines, and travel in general. As much as I loved Scotland and everything about it, I have to say that the highlight of my days was the hour I would steal away to read Bryson's wonderful book which was particularly appropriate given my surroundings.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2004

    If you love England, this is the book for you!

    I had to stop reading, because all the laughing gave me a face ache! If you visit England and love it, this is the book for you. What I can't figure out is why he would leave at all! I especially enjoyed the Glasgow bar incident!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2002

    Hoisted by their own Petard!

    The British sense of humor, so often seen by the rest of the world and in particular by Americans, as being snotty and sarcastic is finally appreciated by someone other than themselves. After 20 odd years in the U.K. Mr.Bryson has developed a wonderful sense of humor. I just hope I can after I've lived in his country for as many years!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2002

    A book for the British people

    I must say I read the book only because my English teacher proposed it and I still have an oral exam next weak on it. It's a good book, very smart writing. On the one hand, I think it's a book for Britons in a way that for a person who doesn't live there, is hard to full apreciatte it. But on the other hand, I ended up getting familiar with cities and areas from Britain I had never heard before. Maybe the fact that he kept talking about places I didn't know bothered me a bit, but still I recomend the book (although not for a didadict kind of reading!!)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2002

    Absolutely Fabulous!

    Bryson does for England what Pete McCarthy did for Ireland; gives us a smashing view of a wondrous people and land but finds the seed of humor on which we all can hang our hats. His humor, if not his political inclinations, leave us with a happily shared universality of laughter which I, as a dedicated anglophile, found particularly hysterical. BUY THIS BOOK!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2002

    i am british yet i love it!

    Having never left Britain for any period of time it may be suprising to you that i adore this book. Being only twenty i too am confused about why my society does these strange things like que for no apparent reason. Bryson is accurate about every aspect of life in Britain, but his views are not new too us Brits, we too have a laugh at ourselves and question why we are like this, i fear in the future Britain will be different, more Americanised, not saying thats a bad thing, but all the little wittisems that make us special will disappear, and will no longer be a source of interest and humour to us and the rest of the world. read Brysons book to read us, then come and have a giggle for yourselves!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 1999

    Tea and traffic jams

    I started to read this book before spending a semester abroad in England. I didn't get a lot of the humor in it before I land in foggy Heathrow, but after barely a week, some of Bryson's observations began to stare me in the face. I saw that I was not the only American who thought some of things merited a good long ponder. Espeically the queuing up... I still don't get it, but I sure can get a giggle from this book. I Highly recommend this to anyone who is going, is currently, or has been in England, and even those who have not. Monty Python makes more sense.

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    Posted November 12, 2008

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    Posted May 10, 2009

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    Posted November 23, 2008

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    Posted March 30, 2011

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    Posted July 5, 2010

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