William McGuire “Bill” Bryson, OBE, FRS (born December 8, 1951), is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and science. Born in America, he was a resident of Britain for most of his adult life before returning to the U.S. in 1995. In 2003 Bryson returned to Britain, living in the old rectory of Wramplingham, Norfolk, and was appointed chancellor of Durham University.
Bryson shot to prominence in the United Kingdom with the publication of Notes from a Small Island (1995), an exploration of Britain, and its accompanying television series. He received widespread recognition again with the publication of A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003), which made popularised scientific questions accessible to a general audience.
Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of William and Agnes Mary (née McGuire). His mother was of Irish descent. He has an older brother, Michael and a sister, Mary Jane Elizabeth – in 2006 Bryson published The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, a humorous account of his childhood years in Des Moines.
Bryson attended Drake University for two years before dropping out in 1972, deciding to instead backpack around Europe for four months. He returned to Europe the following year with a high-school friend, the pseudonymous Stephen Katz. Some of his experiences from this trip were relived as flashbacks in Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, which documents a similar journey Bryson made 20 years later.
Bryson first visited Britain in 1973 during a tour of Europe and decided to stay after landing a job working in a psychiatric hospital-the now defunct Holloway Sanatorium in Virginia Water, Surrey. He met a nurse there named Cynthia Billen, whom he married and they moved to the United States in 1975 so that Bryson could complete his college degree. In 1977 they settled in Britain, where they remained until 1995. Eventually living in North Yorkshire and mainly working as a journalist, Bryson became chief copy editor of the business section of The Times and then deputy national news editor of the business section of The Independent. He left journalism in 1987, three years after the birth of his third child. Living in Kirkby Malham, North Yorkshire, Bryson started writing independently and in 1990 their fourth child, Samuel, was born.
Although able to apply for British citizenship, Bryson has declined a citizenship test, declaring himself “too cowardly” to take it.
In 1995 Bryson returned to the United States to live in Hanover, New Hampshire, for some years, the stories of which feature in his book I’m a Stranger Here Myself, alternatively titled Notes from a Big Country in Britain, Canada, and Australia. During his time in the United States, Bryson decided to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz (a pseudonym), about which he wrote the book A Walk in the Woods. In 2003 the Brysons and their four children returned to Britain and now live in Norfolk.
Also in 2003, in conjunction with World Book Day, British voters chose Bryson’s book Notes from a Small Island as that which best sums up British identity and the state of the nation. In the same year, he was appointed a Commissioner for English Heritage.
In 2004 Bryson won the prestigious Aventis Prize for best general science book with A Short History of Nearly Everything. This 500-page popular literature piece explores not only the histories and current statuses of the sciences, but also reveals their humble and often humorous beginnings. Although one “top scientist” is alleged to have jokingly described the book as “annoyingly free of mistakes,” Bryson himself makes no such claim and a list of some reported errors in the book is available online. In 2005, the book won the EU Descartes Prize for science communication.
Bryson has also written two popular works on the history of the English language-Mother Tongue and Made in America-and, more recently, an update of his guide to usage, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words (published in its first edition as The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words in 1983). These books were popularly acclaimed and well reviewed, though they received some criticism claiming that they contained factual errors, urban myths, and folk etymologies.
Bill Bryson – The Lost Continent: Travels In Small Town America (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way (read by David Case)
Bill Bryson – Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – Made In America: An Informal History Of The English Language In The United States (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – Notes From A Small Island (read by Ron McLarty)
Bill Bryson – A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America On The Appalachian Trail (read by Rob McQuay)
Bill Bryson – Notes From A Big Country (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – Down Under (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – A Short History Of Nearly Everything (read by William Roberts)
Bill Bryson – The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir (read by Bill Bryson)
Bill Bryson – Shakespeare: The World As Stage (read by Bill Bryson)
Bill Bryson – At Home: A Short History Of Private Life (read by Bill Bryson)
Bill Bryson – One Summer: America 1927 (Bill Bryson)
Bill Bryson – Journeys In English (read by Bill Bryson)
Bill Bryson – The Best American Travel Writing 2000 (read by Bill Bryson, Don Leslie, George Guidall, Joe Barrett and Rick Adamson)
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