Who is Bill Bryson?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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Bill Bryson is a noted American author and columnist, best known for his travel memoirs. Raised in Iowa and having spent much of his adult life in England, Bryson possesses a unique perspective on both American and global culture. In addition to his books based on his travels, he has written extensively on language and the history of science.

The son of a journalist father and an accomplished mother, Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines Iowa in the 1950s and 1960s, a period he chronicles in his 2006 book The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. He moved to England in 1973, after several months traveling throughout Europe concluded with getting a job at a mental hospital in Surrey. After meeting and marrying his British wife, Bryson lived in England for more than 20 years, before returning to America with his family in the 1990s. Eventually, the family returned to the United Kingdom, where Bill Bryson continues to write as well as serving as Chancellor to Durham University and as President to the Campaign to Protect Rural England.


Although Bill Bryson’s had been writing books since the mid 1980s, he truly burst onto the international nonfiction literary stage with his 1998 account of hiking the Appalachian Trail, A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail. The book achieved considerable literary attention in America, and sparked some controversy about his depiction of the trail and the culture surrounding trail life. While humorous in nature and full of the ironic agony of defeat, Bryson’s memoir also give serious information regarding the conservation status of the trail and American ecology, as well as stern criticism of the government’s handling of natural environments. The book is currently being adapted into a major motion picture, to be produced and starred in by Robert Redford.

In addition to A Walk in the Woods, Bryson has written travel memoirs about Australia, England, mainland Europe and small-town America. Critics note his books for their wit, constant complaints, and insightful information about the history and culture of the areas he visits. Yet Bill Bryson’s writing has crossed into a variety of other subjects, most prominently in his 2003 book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, which offers a general history of science. Bryson undertook the book to improve his own knowledge about science, from genetics to paleontology to geology. The book was awarded the 2004 Aventis Prize for general science and the European Union Descartes prize.

Though not a credentialed linguist, Bill Bryson also writes extensively on language and the history of words. His language books include dictionaries of difficult words to spell, a history of English in America, and his most recent publication, Bryson’s Dictionary for Writers and Editors. Despite his lack of scholarly background in the field, Bryson’s language books are well received and usually considered extremely helpful tomes for writers and word lovers.

Bill Bryson has been compared to Dave Barry, Mark Twain, and James Thurber. For over 20 years, he has been a consistently successful writer with a flair for irony and satire. If you are looking for a book for a globe-trotter, word addict, or amateur scientists, his books will certainly provide both useful information and the occasional dry chuckle, if not an outright guffaw.


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