Bryson (One Summer: America, 1927, 2013, etc.) takes us on another fascinating cross-country jaunt.
In 1973, while on a European backpacking tour, the author landed in England, got a job at a psychiatric hospital, met a nurse there, and married her, thus beginning a lifelong love affair with Great Britain, where he’s lived on and off for decades and to which he paid homage in Notes from a Small Island (1996), his first British travelogue. Twenty years later, he again sets out across his adopted land, weaving a great tapestry of historical, cultural, and personal anecdotes along the way. Bryson chronicles his visits to the final resting place of George Everest, a native of Greenwich or Wales (depending upon whom you believe), after whom the Himalayan mountain is misnamed and mispronounced, and his return to Holloway Sanitorium, recalling how the inmates were allowed to roam freely into the nearby town. He expounds on why London is the best city in the world and nominates Oxford as the most pleasant and improved city in Britain, Lytham as the best small town in the north of England, and Morecambe Bay as Britain’s most beautiful bay. En route, we meet myriad colorful historical figures, including an esteemed Nobel laureate who took a side job as a gardener and a Scottish marmalade heir/sexual adventurer who restored the stones at Avebury. Bryson takes a stand against litterbugs and those who would build on London’s Green Belt, and he delves into the history and methodology of British road numbering and the evolution of holiday camps. No words are minced or punches pulled where he finds social decline; he rails against indifferent British shopkeepers and indulges in more than one violent fantasy. However, the majority of his criticisms bear his signature wit, and the bulk of his love/hate relationship with Britain falls squarely on the love side.
Anglophiles will find Bryson’s field notes equally entertaining and educational.