Bill Bryson

It’s hard not to be kind of pessimistic about human beings generally, because we do tend to mess things up. If you just look at the history of extinctions, we’ve killed off an awful lot of animals – and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of looking after the planet.

“It’s hard not to be kind of pessimistic about human beings generally, because we do tend to mess things up. If you just look at … Read More

Being a pessimist is just such a gloomy way of looking at things, so I have to hope for the best – life wouldn’t be worth living if we didn’t have hope. And I also do think that human beings often do do wonderful, correct, brilliant things. So, on balance, I’d like to be optimistic about the future.

“Being a pessimist is just such a gloomy way of looking at things, so I have to hope for the best – life wouldn’t be … Read More

For most of us the rules of English grammar are at best a dimly remembered thing. But even for those who make the rules, grammatical correctitude sometimes proves easier to urge than to achieve. Among the errors cited in this book are a number committed by some of the leading authorities of this century. If men such as Fowler and Bernstein and Quirk and Howard cannot always get their English right, is it reasonable to expect the rest of us to?

“For most of us the rules of English grammar are at best a dimly remembered thing. But even for those who make the rules, grammatical … Read More

Those who sniff decay in every shift of sense or alteration of usage do the language no service. Too often for such people the notion of good English has less to do with expressing ideas clearly than with making words conform to some arbitrary pattern.

“Those who sniff decay in every shift of sense or alteration of usage do the language no service. Too often for such people the notion … Read More

At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined as “the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of amorant feelings by the object of the amorance.” That is jargon – the practice of never calling a spade a spade when you might instead call it a manual earth-restructuring implement – and it is one of the great curses of modern English.

“At a conference of sociologists in America in 1977, love was defined as “the cognitive-affective state characterized by intrusive and obsessive fantasizing concerning reciprocity of … Read More

Entirely incidentally, a little-known fact about Shakespeare is that his father moved to Stratford-upon-Avon from a nearby village shortly before his son’s birth. Had he not done so, the Bard of Avon would instead be known as the rather less ringing Bard of Snitterfield.

“Entirely incidentally, a little-known fact about Shakespeare is that his father moved to Stratford-upon-Avon from a nearby village shortly before his son’s birth. Had he … Read More

Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be viewed as almost unbearably exciting. We live on a planet that has a more or less infinite capacity to surprise. What reasoning person could possibly want it any other way?

“Our instinct may be to see the impossibility of tracking everything down as frustrating, dispiriting, perhaps even appalling, but it can just as well be … Read More

Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods choke off views & leave you muddled & without bearings. They make you feel small & confused & vulnerable, like a small child lost in a crowd of strange legs. Stand in a desert or prairie & you know you are in a big space. Stand in the woods and you only sense it. They are vast, featureless nowhere. And they are alive.

“Woods are not like other spaces. To begin with, they are cubic. Their trees surround you, loom over you, press in from all sides. Woods … Read More

But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud period I was slender and fit. I gained a profound respect for the wilderness and nature and the benign dark power of woods. I understand now, in a way I never did before, the colossal scale of the world. I found patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I had. I discovered an America that millions of people scarcely know exists. I made a friend. I came home.

“But I got a great deal else from the experience. I learned to pitch a tent and sleep beneath the stars. For a brief, proud … Read More

On the dashboard of our family car is a shallow indentation about the size of a paperback book. If you are looking for somewhere to put your sunglasses or spare change, it is the obvious place, and it works extremely well, I must say, so long as the car is not actually moving. However, as soon as you put the car in motion … everything slides off … It can hold nothing that has not been nailed to it. So I ask you: what then is it for?

“On the dashboard of our family car is a shallow indentation about the size of a paperback book. If you are looking for somewhere to … Read More

Germans are flummoxed by humor, the Swiss have no concept of fun, the Spanish think there is nothing at all ridiculous about eating dinner at midnight, and the Italians should never, ever have been let in on the invention of the motor car.

“Germans are flummoxed by humor, the Swiss have no concept of fun, the Spanish think there is nothing at all ridiculous about eating dinner at … Read More