“The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” by Bill Bryson

Audiobook version

Unofficial subtitle: “Bill Bryson Tells Us About All The Gross Stuff He Did as a Kid in 1950’s Iowa”

Not much to say really beyond the subtitle.  It’s a (short) collection of Bryson’s humorous reminisces about growing up, as well as a look back on what life in middle America was like in the Fifties.  At one point, Bryson nicely summed up the decade as one of “undiluted optimism and eager despair” — never before had standards of living risen so high so quickly for so many, but also never before had there existed the real possibility of total annihilation (from Soviet atomic weapons).  Even still, people seemed fascinated by the new technology, just as they were by the newest model cars or new washing machines.

On that note, one of the more memorable accounts in the book was of the largest-ever atomic drill conducted in New York City, which took place in 1951.  Everybody was expected to drop whatever they were doing and hasten to the nearest designated fallout shelter.  Well almost everybody.  The only citizens excepted were restaurant patrons and workers.  It was thought that if customers were excused for an hour or so, very few would return to pay their bill!

Another note – Bill Bryson reads the audio version himself, and by golly he has a very strange accent!  From Iowa, of course, but he moved to England in his 20’s and has lived there more or less since.  So he has quite an odd British-American combo accent, I thought.


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