Those who live are those who fight.Victor Hugo
- 1 Sourced
- 1.1 The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
- 1.2 Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1991)
- 1.3 Notes from a Small Island (1995)
- 1.4 A Walk in the Woods (1997)
- 1.5 I'm a Stranger Here Myself (US) / Notes From a Big Country (UK) (1998)
- 1.6 In a Sunburned Country (US) / Down Under (UK) (2000)
- 1.7 Interview with Stanfords Newsletter (June 2001)
- 1.8 A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
- 1.9 Bill Bryson: The accidental chancellor (November 15, 2005)
- 1.10 The Life And Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006)
- 2 Unsourced
- 3 External links
The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989)
- I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.
- Opening line.
- When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a girl called Bobbie and get a job in 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 Bobbie and get a job in the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.
- My father liked Iowa. He lived his whole life in the state, and is even now working his way through eternity there, in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.
- I had to calm down because a state trooper pulled up alongside me at a traffic light and began looking at me with that sort of casual disdain you often get when you give a dangerously stupid person a gun and a squad car.
- I assume he was descended from apes like all the rest of us, but clearly in his case it had been a fairly gentle slope.
- I watched a rerun on television of a 1960s comedy programme called "Mr Ed", which was about a talking horse. Judging by the quality of the jokes, I would guess that Mr Ed wrote his own material.
- Just down the road stood a little town, which I shall call Dullard lest the people recognize themselves and take me to court or come to my house and batter me with baseball bats.
- A sign in the yard of a church next door said CHRIST IS THE ANSWER. (The question, of course, is: What do you say when you strike your thumb with a hammer?)
- I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored. But then it occurred to me that musing is a pointless waste of anyone's time, and instead I went off to see if I could find a Baby Ruth candy bar, a far more profitable exercise.
- For forty years or so this was the world headquarters of conspicuous consumption.
- about Newport, Rhode Island (RI)
Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe (1991)
- Much of the tablecloth was a series of grey smudges outlined in a large, irregular patch of yellow that looked distressingly like a urine stain.
- We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls. [Copenhagen]
- The best that can be said for Norwegian television is that it gives you the sensation of a coma without the worry and inconvenience.
- You have three chromosomes, Bryson. X, Y, and Fuckhead.
- I don`t care how paranoid and irrational this makes me sound, but I know for a fact that the people of Paris want me dead.
Notes from a Small Island (1995)
- Why, it's a perfect little city. If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It's wonderful.
Bill Bryson was later awarded an honorary doctorate and appointed to the position of Chancellor of the University of Durham .
- Blackpool's illuminations are nothing if not splendid, and they are not splendid.
A Walk in the Woods (1997)
- I have long known that it is part of God's plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth, and Mary Ellen was proof that even in the Appalachian woods I would not be spared. It became evident that she was a rarity.
- Excuse me, but I have to say this. You are more stupid than a paramecium.
I'm a Stranger Here Myself (US) / Notes From a Big Country (UK) (1998)
- By almost universal agreement, the most vague and ineffectual of all [Presidents] was Millard Fillmore, who succeeded to the office in 1850 upon the death of Zachary Taylor, and spent the next three years demonstrating how the country would have been run if they had just propped Taylor up in a chair with cushions.
- America is an outstandingly dangerous place. Consider this: every year in New Hampshire a dozen or more people are killed crashing their cars into moose. Now correct me if I am wrong, but this is not something that is likely to happen to you on the way home from Sainsbury's.
- Three things alone are certain when you venture into a loft: that you will crack your head on a beam at least twice, that you will get cobwebs draped over your face, and that you will not find what you went looking for.
- Normally, your wife can hear things that no one else on earth can hear. She can hear a dab of jam fall onto a carpet two rooms away. She can hear spilled coffee being furtively mopped up with a good bathtowel. She can hear dirt being tracked across a clean floor. She can hear you just thinking about doing something you shouldn't do. But get yourself stuck in a loft hatch and suddenly it is as if she has been placed in a soundproof chamber.
- My wife [...] recently put me on a diet after suggesting (a little unkindly, if you ask me), that I was beginning to look like something Richard Branson would try to get airborne.
- [I relaxed] my customary aversion to consulting a book by anyone so immensely pratty as to put "Ph.D." after his name (I don't put Ph.D. after my name on my books, after all — and not just because I don't have one).
- Bryson was later awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Durham
- According to an opinion poll, 13 per cent of women in the United States cannot say whether they wear their tights under their knickers or over them. That's something like 12 million women walking around in a state of chronic foundation garment uncertainty. Perhaps because I so seldom wear ladies' clothing I don't fully appreciate the challenge involved, but I am almost certain that if I did wear tights with knickers I would know which was on top. More to the point, if a stranger with a clipboard came up to me in the street and asked me how my underwear was configured, I don't believe I would tell him that I didn't know.
- There is always a little more toothpaste in the tube. Think about it.
- It would be a great abuse of my position to write that it was Northwest Airlines that treated us in this shoddy and inexcusable way, so I won't.
In a Sunburned Country (US) / Down Under (UK) (2000)
- Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead.
- After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind), I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry.
- It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavours look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game.
- Above all, what is oddest to the outsider is that Aborigines just aren't there.
- So without an original or helpful thought in my head, I just sat for some minutes and watched these poor disconnected people shuffle past. Then I did what most white Australians do. I read my newspaper and drank my coffee and didn't see them anymore.
- It was impossible to determine what he was saying, but I imagined he was telling all those present that they were nongs and maggots. I decided I quite liked watching the news with the sound off.
- I'd turn on the lights, but they're blown. I'd offer you a seat, but there isn't one. I'd offer you a drink from the minibar, but there doesn't appear to be one." "It certainly is basic." "Basic? It's a bloody cell!
Interview with Stanfords Newsletter (June 2001)
- There was a lot more joking going on when I was a kid. My dad, for instance, specialised in puns and I remember once we were on vacation in California and we were driving along the San Andreas Fault and he threw a quarter out of the window into the Fault because he said "he had always wanted to be generous to a fault".
- I really was more intent on getting out of Iowa than everybody else. I just felt I didn't quite fit in exactly, the way other people did. Then I came here and discovered by living in Britain that being a foreigner is really a treat. It is such a great position to be in. When things are going well you can step forward and take part in the ceremonies and everything is great. And when things are not going well, being entirely hypothetical here, if for example your national football team got beat by Germany, you can stand back and say what a shame.
- I had also got used to the idea that here [in the UK] you can make quips all the time and in America that can be very dangerous. I wrote about it in one of the books. Once I was going through customs and immigration in Boston, and the guy said as I went past "Any fruit or vegetables?" and I said "OK, I'll have four pounds of potatoes if they are fresh" and it was like he was going to take me off and pin me to the floor.
- Well, I didn't ever think about Australia much. To me Australia had never been very interesting, it was just something that happened in the background. It was Neighbours and Crocodile Dundee movies and things that never really registered with me and I didn't pay any attention to it at all. I went out there in 1992, as I was invited to the Melbourne Writers Festival, and I got there and realised almost immediately that this was a really really interesting country and I knew absolutely nothing about it. As I say in the book, the thing that really struck me was that they had this prime minister who disappeared in 1967, Harold Holt and I had never heard about this. I should perhaps tell you because a lot of other people haven't either. In 1967 Harold Holt was prime minister and he was walking along a beach in Victoria just before Christmas and decided impulsively to go for a swim and dove into the water and swam about 100 feet out and vanished underneath the waves, presumably pulled under by the ferocious undertow or rips as they are called, that are a feature of so much of the Australian coastline. In any case, his body was never found. Two things about that amazed me. The first is that a country could just lose a prime minister — that struck me as a really quite special thing to do — and the second was that I had never heard of this. I could not recall ever having heard of this. I was sixteen years old in 1967. I should have known about it and I just realised that there were all these things about Australia that I had never heard about that were actually very very interesting. The more I looked into it, the more I realised that it is a fascinating place. The thing that really endeared Australia to me about Harold Holt's disappearance was not his tragic drowning, but when I learned that about a year after he disappeared the City of Melbourne, his home town, decided to commemorate him in some appropriate way and named a municipal swimming pool after him. I just thought: this is a great country.
- I went round to all these minority sports and I couldn't really appreciate them. Fencing, for example, is just "click, click, click" and it is over. Then they retire. Then they go again "On guard — click, click, click" and it is over again. You just think, "what is this sport?" I thought this is really boring and then I went to Judo and it was just the same thing. These two guys just endlessly circling each other, acting as if what they are trying to do is take the others shirt off without him realising this is what they are trying to do. I just thought "what is this? I don't understand this at all". Then I went to table tennis, which obviously I could identify with because I had played it myself — not quite at Olympic standard — but I could understand it. It suddenly became clear to me that these people really are so far beyond anything I could ever dream of becoming. I felt really terrible because I hadn't appreciated the fencers. The reason I couldn't follow them was because they were so damn good. Their hands were so quick that I couldn't see what was going on.
- ... I had some suggestions [about fencing]. I thought that you could encourage surprise attacks. I thought that would be very good. I kind of liked the idea of arming one guy with a conventional sword but giving the other a pikestaff. My favourite was the idea of blindfolding one of the competitors or blindfolding them both and spinning them around a bit so they were a little bit unstable and then just pushing them towards each other. It would make each match go on a bit longer.
- A friend Alan and I ended up in an Outback pub in a place called Daly Waters and apparently, he says, in the course of this very lively evening we spent there I offered to do a house swap with a family from Korea. We weren't sure whether they were from North Korea or South Korea.
A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
- It is a slightly arresting notion that if you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers, one atom at a time, you would produce a mound of fine atomic dust, none of which had ever been alive but all of which had once been you.
- Pages 1-2
- Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth's mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life's quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result -- eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly -- in you.
- Page 3
- All that can really be said is that at some indeterminate point in the very distant past, for reasons unknown, there came the moment known to science as t = 0. We were on our way.
- On the moment of creation; page 10
- As Edward P. Tryon of Columbia University once put it: "In answer to the question of why it happened, I offer the modest proposal that our universe is simply one of those things that happen from time to time." To which adds Guth: "Although the creation of a universe might be very unlikely, Tryon emphasized that no one had counted the failed attempts."
- On the Big Bang
- … as the biologist J. B. S. Haldane once famously observed: "The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose."
- Page 17
- In France, a chemist named Pilatre de Rozier tested the flammability of hydrogen by gulping a mouthful and blowing across an open flame, proving at a stroke that hydrogen is indeed explosively combustible and that eyebrows are not necessarily a permanent feature of one's face.
- Page 59
- Despite declining catches, New England fishermen continue to receive state and federal tax incentives that encourage them — in some cases all but compel them — to acquire bigger boats and to harvest the seas more intensively. Today the fishermen of Massachusetts are reduced to fishing the hideous hagfish, for which there is a slight market in the Far East, but even their numbers are now falling.
- Page 285
- It is natural human impulse to think of evolution as a long chain of improvements, of a never-ending advance towards largeness and complexity — in a word, towards us. We flatter ourselves. Most of the real diversity in evolution has been small-scale. We large things are just flukes — an interesting side branch.
- Page 311
- But what is life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours — arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on.
- Page 336
- Disassemble the cells of a sponge (by passing them through a sieve, for instance), then dump them into a solution, and they will find their way back together and build themselves into a sponge again. You can do this to them over and over, and they will doggedly reassemble because, like you and me and every other living thing, they have one overwhelming impulse: to continue to be.
- Page 380
- Absolute brain size does not tell you everything — or possibly sometimes even much. Elephants and whales both have brains larger than ours, but you wouldn't have much trouble outwitting them in contract negotiations.
- Pages 446-447, footnote
Bill Bryson: The accidental chancellor (November 15, 2005)
- ...Our guide announces that he's going to take us to the coldest place on Earth, where particles are cooled to within a fraction of a Kelvin. "Ah," says Bryson. "That must be Donald Rumsfeld's heart."
- One of my duties, this week, is to open the new Ustinov college," he confesses, "and while I'm delighted that Durham should honour its former chancellor this way — and I sincerely hope it continues this tradition for me — I can't help feeling that an American university would only have done so had the chancellor also handed over a substantial amount of dosh.
- They [the American authorities] can't actually believe that anyone would want to not be an American," he says. "It's not enough to send them a letter and tell them you've become British; you've got to go to the embassy to formally renounce your US citizenship. I'm a little worried that when I do this they'll pack me off to Guantanamo.
- It would be lovely to think I had become a genius," he smiles, "but the fact is that I've forgotten most of it. Occasionally I can be watching University Challenge and a stray fact emerges from the recesses of my subconscious that I didn't know I knew, but for the most part I'm as vague on the details as I ever was.
- Nearly a quarter of American men were in the Armed forces [in 1968]. The rest were in school, in prison, or were George W. Bush.
- I can tell you that tonight in Des Moines, Iowa, my home town, people all across the city will be putting a hand to their ears and saying "What is that sound?", and it will be the sound of Mr De Vito, my High School Careers Officer, spinning in his grave.
- Address at investiture as Chancellor of the University of Durham; unidentified transcript source
- I was asked what I would like to be said of me in a hundred years from now. I replied "...and he's still sexually active!"
- Address at the Reform Club, London, 2006
- I have always wanted to know why, wherever archaeologists dig, do they always find red and white poles?
- Opening address at 50 Years of Durham Archaeology Conference, June 2007