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Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)

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Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, is a humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford.

The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three ...

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Three Men in a Boat

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Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), published in 1889, is a humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford.

The book was initially intended to be a serious travel guide, with accounts of local history along the route, but the humorous elements took over to the point where the serious and somewhat sentimental passages seem a distraction to the comic novel. One of the most praised things about Three Men in a Boat is how undated it appears to modern readers - the jokes seem fresh and witty even today.

The three men are based on Jerome himself (the narrator J.) and two real-life friends, George Wingrave (who would become a senior manager at Barclays Bank) and Carl Hentschel (the founder of a London printing business, called Harris in the book), with whom he often took boating trips. The dog, Montmorency, is entirely fictional but, "as Jerome admits, developed out of that area of inner consciousness which, in all Englishmen, contains an element of the dog." The trip is a typical boating holiday of the time in a Thames camping skiff. This was just after commercial boat traffic on the Upper Thames had died out, replaced by the 1880s craze for boating as a leisure activity.

Following the overwhelming success of Three Men in a Boat, Jerome later published a sequel, about a cycling tour in Germany, titled Three Men on the Bummel.
The story begins by introducing George, Harris, Jerome and Montmorency, a fox terrier. The men are spending an evening in J.'s room, smoking and discussing illnesses they fancy they suffer from. They conclude that they are all suffering from 'overwork' and need a holiday. A stay in the country and a sea trip are both considered, then rejected after J. describes the bad experiences of his brother-in-law and a friend on sea trips. The three decide on a boating holiday up the River Thames, from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford, during which they will camp, notwithstanding Jerome's anecdotes about previous experiences with tents and camping stoves.

They set off the following Saturday. George must go to work that morning ("George goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two"), so J. and Harris make their way to Kingston by train. They cannot find the right train at Waterloo Station (the station's confusing layout was a well-known theme of Victorian comedy) so they bribe a train driver to take his train to Kingston, where they collect the hired boat and start the journey. They meet George further up river at Weybridge.

The remainder of the story describes their river journey and the incidents that occur. The book's original purpose as a guidebook is apparent as Jerome, the narrator, describes passing landmarks and villages such as Hampton Court Palace, Hampton Church, Magna Carta Island, Monkey Island, and Marlow, and muses on historical associations of these places. However, he frequently digresses into humorous anecdotes that range from the unreliability of barometers for weather forecasting to the difficulties encountered when learning to play the Scottish bagpipes. The most frequent topics of J's anecdotes are river pastimes such as fishing and boating and the difficulties they present to the inexperienced and unwary and to the three men on previous boating trips.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Jerome's classic British comedy is recounted by House's Hugh Laurie in a marvelously entertaining performance that will bring listeners to the banks of the Thames and carry them away into a world where three men and a dog named Montmorency venture from London to Oxford one sunny day. At just two and a half hours, the journey is short but sweet as Laurie captures the essence of Jerome's touching tale. With his classic witty tone, Laurie dives headfirst into each character, offering his own take on each colorful personality. There is a subtle theatrical aspect at work here as Laurie delivers a knockout one-man show that displays his wide-ranging talent. (Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781500949150
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/25/2014
  • Pages: 244
  • Sales rank: 1,135,963
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.51 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerome Klapka Jerome (2 May 1859 - 14 June 1927) was an English writer and humorist, best known for the comic travelogue Three Men in a Boat (1889).

Other works include the essay collections Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886) and Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow; Three Men on the Bummel, a sequel to Three Men in a Boat; and several other novels.
Jerome was born in Caldmore, Walsall, England. He was the fourth child of Marguerite Jones and Jerome Clapp (who later renamed himself Jerome Clapp Jerome), an ironmonger and lay preacher who dabbled in architecture. He had two sisters, Paulina and Blandina, and one brother, Milton, who died at an early age. Jerome was registered, like his father's amended name, as Jerome Clapp Jerome, and the Klapka appears to be a later variation (after the exiled Hungarian general György Klapka). Owing to bad investments in the local mining industry, the family fell into poverty and debt collectors visited often, an experience Jerome described vividly in his autobiography My Life and Times (1926). The young Jerome attended St Marylebone Grammar School. He wished to go into politics or be a man of letters, but the death of his father when the younger Jerome was age 13 and of his mother when he was age 15 forced him to quit his studies and find work to support himself. He was employed at the London and North Western Railway, initially collecting coal that fell along the railway, and remained there for four years.
In 1877, inspired by his older sister Blandina's love for the theatre, Jerome decided to try his hand at acting, under the stage name Harold Crichton. He joined a repertory troupe that produced plays on a shoestring budget, often drawing on the actors' own meagre resources - Jerome was penniless at the time - to purchase costumes and props. After three years on the road with no evident success, the 21-year-old Jerome decided he had had enough of stage life and sought other occupations. He tried to become a journalist, writing essays, satires and short stories, but most of these were rejected. Over the next few years he was a school teacher, a packer, and a solicitor's clerk. Finally, in 1885, he had some success with On the Stage - and Off , a comic memoir of his experiences with the acting troupe, followed by Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow , a collection of humorous essays which had previously appeared in the newly founded magazine, Home Chimes, the same magazine that would later serialise Three Men in a Boat.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 113
Chapter 224
Chapter 331
Chapter 439
Chapter 550
Chapter 664
Chapter 777
Chapter 889
Chapter 9101
Chapter 10112
Chapter 11125
Chapter 12136
Chapter 13151
Chapter 14167
Chapter 15181
Chapter 16197
Chapter 17202
Chapter 18213
Chapter 19221
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Critics tried to sink Jerome K. Jerome's comic classic, Three Men in a Boat (To say nothing of the Dog! ), when it appeared in 1889. The late-Victorian-era reading public, however, made the lighthearted depiction of a Thames River journey into a bestseller and launched Jerome on a long and successful career as author, playwright, and editor. Three Men in a Boat remains one of the most widely read and beloved works of British fiction. The novel's global popularity has proven unsinkable. Three Men in a Boat has never fallen out of print and its style has influenced generations of British writers, from P.G. Wodehouse to Douglas Adams. The book has been translated into many languages, including Japanese, Swedish, and Russian, and its colloquial tone has been used to teach English worldwide. Radio, film, and stage adaptations of Jerome's timeless story have appeared with regularity since the 1920s, including a 1975 teleplay by Tom Stoppard. Jerome, a self-proclaimed "idler," would surely be surprised by the busy post-publication lives led by his famous trio and their dog.

Despite his literary evocations of leisure, Jerome's own life was marked by labor and deprivation from an early age. He was born into a deeply religious family of Nonconformists (Protestants who did not join the Anglican church) in Walsall, Staffordshire, in 1859. His preacher father, also named Jerome, gave his youngest child the unusual middle name Klapka in honor of a Hungarian general, George Klapka, who once lived with the Jeromes and became a family friend. It is tempting to suspect that growing up in a household of Jerome Jeromes and Hungarian expatriates encouraged theauthor's nascent talent for bemused observations of everyday life. After the Reverend Jerome embarked on a series of failed business schemes, the newly impoverished family moved to cramped quarters in London's crime-ridden East End. At the age of ten, Jerome began his formal education at a school located a great distance from his home, which necessitated a lonely and tiring daily commute. He recalled in his autobiographical novel, Paul Kelver (1902), that it was on one such cross-town journey that he met Charles Dickens and expressed to the great author his own intention of becoming a writer. Whether the story is true or not, Dickens would likely have appreciated a chance meeting with an intelligent young boy of reduced circumstances set on pursuing the literary life. What is certain is that Jerome's childhood came to an abrupt and fittingly Dickensian end when he was orphaned at the age of fourteen following the untimely deaths of his father and mother. The hard-working youth left school to take up a series of unhappy clerkships. He eventually turned to eking out a living as an actor in a traveling stage company.

Three years treading the boards in provincial theaters exhausted Jerome, who returned to London destitute and demoralized. But the would-be actor soon turned his abortive stage career into the first of his many published triumphs. After several painful rejections, Jerome's humorous essays on the theater finally caught the attention of a small periodical, The Play. The initial interest in his personal, backstage reminiscences led to the publication and modest success of his first collection, On the Stage-And Off (1885). A year later a second volume of essays appeared, The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow. Jerome's figure of an idler is akin to a Victorian "slacker," one who shirks work in order to better comment on the recline and sprawl of the British Empire. With typical insouciance, Jerome affectionately dedicated his book of comic philosophizing to a "very dear and well-beloved friend"- his pipe. The publication of his "idle thoughts" demonstrated that Jerome had been very busy refining the garrulous style of genial wit and wisdom that became his trademark.

The contradiction between Jerome's professed idleness and his actual industry was only one of the internal tensions that came to define his later work. He quickly became associated with the "new humour," originally a term of derision meted out by London's notoriously venomous critics. His longtime friend, writer and ideologue Israel Zangwill, explained that the "new humourists" created characters and stories that "stand for comedy as well as for tragedy." Given the deprivations Jerome faced as a child and the hardships he endured as a young adult, it is not surprising that his humor was occasionally infused with underlying sorrow. What is striking, however, is that the once homeless and desperate Jerome went on to epitomize the aspirations and increasing confidence of the fin de siècle British middle class.

Jerome never envisioned the enduring popularity of Three Men in a Boat when he began publishing installments in the periodical Home Chimes in 1888. In fact, Jerome had not planned to write a comic work at all. Originally intending to write a travelogue recording the history of the Thames River, Jerome found that the episodic nature of a lazy journey accommodated the sort of humorous digressions and witty reflections that had first made his name. As he revised his book, he shifted the emphasis from landscape to the narrative stylings of J., a thinly-veiled stand-in for Jerome himself. An idler who exhibits a "general disinclination to work of any kind," J. also holds a jaundiced view of society, which leaves him "yearn[ing] for the good old days, when you could go about and tell people what you thought of them with a hatchet and a bow and arrows."

Two other members of the boating party, George and Harris, also have their real-life counterparts. The fictional George, who "goes to sleep at a bank from ten to four each day, except Saturdays, when they wake him up and put him outside at two," was based on Jerome's fellow theater-goer and old friend from his dosshouse days, George Wingrave, who had become a bank manager. Their companion, Harris, appears as an inveterate drinker who even in Paradise would likely find "a nice place round the corner here, where you can get some really first-class nectar." Jerome's depiction of a bibulous Harris is an inside joke. The real Harris, a theater enthusiast named Carl Hentschel, was not fond of alcohol. Montmorency, a small fox terrier who steals several scenes in the novel, appears to be "born with about four times as much original sin in [him] as other dogs are." Montmorency gets into scraps with cats and stray curs, loses a battle with a kettle, howls at George's banjo recital, donates a water rat to the trio's Irish stew, and generally makes a nuisance of himself. As vivid a canine as ever-appeared in literature, Montmorency was in fact wholly conjured to life by Jerome's imagination.

The cheeky preface to Three Men in a Boat states that the book purports to "form the record of events that really happened. All that has been done is to colour them; and, for this, no extra charge has been made." Indeed, the real-life triumvirate of Jerome, Wingrave, and Hentschel did set out on a trip up the Thames in the spring of 1889, though they had made several river excursions before. Boating was the latest recreational craze at the time, and Jerome sought to capitalize on the novelty with his travelogue. Jerome's resulting chronicle of the trip retains some elements of his intended "story of the Thames," notably his rambling comments on riverside towns and their attractions. But the soul of the book remains the vernacular style of the narrator. Many of Jerome's amusing anecdotes and recollections of the young friends' foibles are undoubtedly based on real events and are embellished with a skill reminiscent of the great American yarn-spinners Mark Twain and Josh Billings.

Hallmarks of Jerome's digressive style include the use of understatement, the matter-of-fact invocation of absurd logic, the piling up of exaggerations, and the attribution of emotion to the inanimate. George's profuse cursing is euphemistically down-played as "express[ing] wishes and desires concerning Harris's fate in this world and the next that would have made a thoughtful man shudder." When lost at night, the friends consider "assaulting a policeman" in order to have "a night's lodging in the station-house," but they reject the proposition, fearful that he would hit them back without locking them up! A dispute over whether to pack cheese for the trip devolves into a ridiculous tale of cheeses so ripe that they could not even be buried without the coroner raising a "fearful fuss. . .[saying] it was a plot to deprive him of his living by waking up the corpses." Several hilarious episodes detail the threesome's tussles with malicious objects such as tents, tow lines, tea kettles, and a particularly contrary tin of pineapple: "We beat it out flat; we beat it back square; we battered it into every form known to geometry - but we could not make a hole in it. [. . .] There was one great dent across the top that had the appearance of a mocking grin, and it drove us furious."

The many mishaps unfold in brief chapters headed by diary-like encapsulations. This technique, combined with the first-person narration and its highly colloquial language, bolsters the sense that Jerome's tale is faithful to the human comedy of real men seeking to escape the pressures of an industrialized society. In Three Men in a Boat, Jerome crafted an idyll of idleness whose humor derived from the misadventures of the late-Victorian Everyman. Literary scholar Donald Gray has commented that Victorian laughter functioned "to furnish a holiday from taking things and ideas seriously." Jerome dramatizes the unimportance of being earnest when his narrator flippantly remarks, "I like work; it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours." His rambling accounts of his characters' circuitous progress, their plunges into the river, and their hopelessly misguided navigations of Hampton Court's famed hedge maze, provided Jerome's contemporaries with a much-needed vacation from solemnity.

At a time when critics and educators still demanded that literature present some elevating moral, Jerome merely paid lip-service to "the lesson that the story teaches." He drifted instead from commentary on "the natural cussedness of things in general" upon arising too early on vacation, to the "natural obstinacy of all things in this world," when a boat fails to obey its captains. Readers were not accustomed to descriptions of their own frustrations in a vernacular that comically deflated the significance of their grievances. The novelty of Jerome's prose and the fresh depiction of middle-class mores helped make Three Men in a Boat a fabulous success and the author a wealthy man. As usual, the critics were less kind, lambasting Jerome for lowbrow sentimentality, vulgarity, his use of slang, and the "poverty of the life [the book] only too faithfully reflects." For readers who were flattered to see their own human failings described in print, such 'faithful reflection' was exactly the point. The reviews stung Jerome, who never completely abandoned the pieties of his youth. He was baffled by critics responding to his book's popularity as if "the British Empire was in danger."

Writing nearly seventy years after Three Men in a Boat was published, critic V. S. Pritchett praised Jerome for seeing "that one of the funniest things a human being has is his conscience." Indeed, Jerome's characters' hypocrisies, their pettiness, and their ironic observations throw into comic relief fundamental truths of human nature. J. bemoans uncharitable holiday-makers: "I don't know why it should be, but everybody is always so exceptionally irritable on the river." He then undercuts his musings with the revelation that: "When another boat gets in my way, I feel I want to take an oar and kill all the people in it." Here, a lack of self-awareness reveals an essential selfishness common to everyone. Perhaps such revelations are responsible for the long-standing appeal of Jerome's work across the globe.

Although Jerome produced literary works well into the twentieth century, he was never able to escape the notoriety of Three Men in a Boat. A sequel set during a cycling trip in Germany, Three Men on the Bummel (1900), reunited the characters and achieved considerable success. Jerome lectured and traveled widely, and even enlisted in the French army during World War I at the age of fifty-seven as an ambulance driver. He penned an entertaining account of his early struggles and later triumphs in My Life and Times (1926). For most of his professional life, he lived with his wife, Georgina, and daughter in London and socialized with a cadre of famous, forward-thinking intellectuals, including Arthur Conan Doyle and H.G. Wells. Jerome continued to write popular books, well-received plays, such as The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1907), and edit publications, most notably The Idler, until his death from a stroke in 1927. His own verdict on his future legacy has proven accurate: "I may come to be quite a swell dead author." While American literature rhapsodizes over epic journeys on the road or down the mighty Mississippi, the British canon celebrates Jerome's more modest, but equally captivating narrative of a voyage undertaken by three men in a boat - to say nothing of the dog - one spring over a hundred years ago.

Adam Rovner holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Indiana University. He has lectured and published articles on comic literature and humor theory for both popular and academic audiences.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 83 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 83 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 18, 2011

    Don't bother

    This has been digitized from a print edition. It has so many typos it's not worth reading.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2009

    Great book, great read and great author.

    Every page of the book is fun to read. period.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Fun Read

    This title came to me from a book store in Durham NC. They were about to have a local author review it. The thing that interested me most is that it was published 120 yrs. ago and has Never been out of print. Yet, it is just as interesting now as it was then. The one major drawback for me was that the book didn't include a map of the river area where the characters were boating.

    The author originally planned this book as a travel narrative. He decided that he should add some characters to make it more palatable. He added himself and a couple of friends. And the dog, which I didn't think added appreciably to the book, regardless of the cover blurb. What he winds up with is an interesting mish-mnash of travelogue and stream of consciousness chatter. Not boring. Mostly not laugh-out-loud. Just a nice fun read. Good hammock reading. A good pick to keep in your purse to read in waiting rooms and such.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2001

    Very Funny book

    I got this as a present after I'd been raving about Connie Willis' 'To say Nothing of the Dog' and it is a very nice and comic book. It covers a trip up the Thames in 1888 (I think) and the adventures had. Possibly the funniest bit is the German singer and everyone laughing at his tragic song because someone tells them it's a comic song. It's worth the read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2013

    A classic

    This should be reread annuallyy as an antidote to life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2012


    This book is just too funny! I cannot recommend it highly enough. This is just one nonstop laughter. I absolutely loved the ending.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 24, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A must-read for any fan of British deadpan humor

    I loved this classic tale of three Victorian slackers boating on the Thames. The first-person narration of their bumbling pleasure trip up and down the river is filled with dry humor, frequent rabbit trails, and the occasional overly-flowery Victorian paragraph.

    Jerome K. Jerome's humorous style has clearly influenced other British writers such as Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and Terry Pratchett (Discworld). This is a must read of any fan of British humor.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2011

    Laugh Out Funny!

    This book is laugh out funny ... a complete riot. Enough hilarious scenes to make anyone roll on the floor!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 23, 2011

    Poor Formatting

    The story is great, a classic. But the digital formatting of this free edition makes the book hard to read. Spending .99 or 1.99 for a formatted copy would be worthwhile.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    hilarious and a quick read...

    Three Men in a Boat is a very funny travelogue/comedy novel. It was very entertaining with all the misadventure that seemed to follow these fellows up the Thames. You never knew what might happen next. This book is well know for it's timeless feel. It was written in the 19th century but the writing and the humor seem ageless. It reminded me of a Bill Bryson travel book. Three Men in a Boat is lively and amusing, and a quick read too at under 200 pages.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2014

    "Three Men in a Boat" is a hilarious volume, filled wi

    "Three Men in a Boat" is a hilarious volume, filled with boating adventures and witty ramblings.

    It all begins when a trio of grown men "decide" they are quite ill and that a sea trip is just the thing to cure them. If you don't mind casting away with a coterie of half-lunatics, then you're in for a treat. The self-diagnosis of various ailments gets a person chuckling. The ridiculous arguments get a person guffawing. The trailing stories that the main character tells get a person outright laughing.

    The descriptions of England and the curiosities that the trio encountered are just delightful. The bizarre antics of three crazy men (and a dog) are splendid. Everything is precisely British, and oh!---how I wish for a nice row down the Thames right about now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    Recomand cu multa placere

    O carte pe care o devorezi cu zambetul pe buze.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2013

    This is a delightful account of three men taking a boat trip thr

    This is a delightful account of three men taking a boat trip through England’s little towns. Unlike most novels written so long ago it does not waste a great deal of words on tedious talk for the sake of talk, though there is a great deal of talking and musing in it. It just isn’t dull. This is a funny read that has remained funny through time.

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  • Posted March 8, 2013

    Highly entertaining

    A laugh-at-loud account of the exploits of three English gentlemen who decide to while away their idle plying the waters of the Thames and its tributaries. Renting a small boat, which they fill with three years-and-a-day's worth of supplies, they set off. By turns pushing, pulling and rowing they make their way through a maze of channels splicing the English countryside, all the while stumbling and bumbling their way through one misadventure after another. A smart, funny book well worth the hour or two it takes to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2013

    A classiic

    Well worth an annual rereading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2012

    Still a Delight!

    This was one of the first books printed (in translation) in post-WWII Germany. I loved it as a child and still love it as a "Senior Reader". The dry humor and the reminder of a kinder, gentler England are still very appealing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2012


    A delightful read but text had spelling errors here and there. Or was that a part of the humour? ;)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012


    This is by far the funniest book that I have ever read. It had me laughing out loud in the bus, the subway and even in the sandwich shop. I can't believe I just discovered this book. 100% HILARIOUS!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2012

    The Funniest Book in the World!

    If you are ever down or depressed, this is the book for you. This is the funniest book you will ever read and will have you in stitches as soon as you pick it up and start getting into the story. Absolutely hilarious!

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  • Posted November 27, 2011


    This is a charming little gem of a book - part comedy, part travel guide - an altoghether entertaining and amusing account of three adventurous young men in Victorian England who take a boat trip on the Thames River. Jerome K. Jerome's writing is similar to that of P.G. Wodehouse and he is often laugh-out-loud funny when relating the events of the trip.

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