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From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one o From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)—in his head—as "The Thunderbolt Kid." Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality—a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and OF his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson’s earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends. Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bill Bryson has ever written. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.


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From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one o From one of the world's most beloved writers and New York Times bestselling author of One Summer, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the 1950s Bill Bryson was born in the middle of the American century—1951—in the middle of the United States—Des Moines, Iowa—in the middle of the largest generation in American history—the baby boomers. As one of the best and funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24-carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generational peers, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around his house and neighborhood with an old football jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel about his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing awful evildoers (and morons)—in his head—as "The Thunderbolt Kid." Using this persona as a springboard, Bill Bryson re-creates the life of his family and his native city in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality—a life at once completely familiar to us all and as far away and unreachable as another galaxy. It was, he reminds us, a happy time, when automobiles and televisions and appliances (not to mention nuclear weapons) grew larger and more numerous with each passing year, and DDT, cigarettes, and the fallout from atmospheric testing were considered harmless or even good for you. He brings us into the life of his loving but eccentric family, including affectionate portraits of his father, a gifted sportswriter for the local paper and dedicated practitioner of isometric exercises, and OF his mother, whose job as the home furnishing editor for the same paper left her little time for practicing the domestic arts at home. The many readers of Bill Bryson’s earlier classic, A Walk in the Woods, will greet the reappearance in these pages of the immortal Stephen Katz, seen hijacking literally boxcar loads of beer. He is joined in the Bryson gallery of immortal characters by the demonically clever Willoughby brothers, who apply their scientific skills and can-do attitude to gleefully destructive ends. Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, and full of his inimitable, pitch-perfect observations, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is as wondrous a book as Bill Bryson has ever written. It will enchant anyone who has ever been young.

30 review for The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's writing, but this one was both uplifting and saddening at the same time. The premise of the book is how Bill learned to see a country be wooed by the siren song of prosperity through the guise of his own internal superhero persona, the Thunderbolt Kid. This is an engaging book which takes the reader back to simpler times, with plenty of Bryson's characteristic laugh-out-loud funny moments to go around. The Thunderbolt Kid persona is really a subtitle to the main id I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's writing, but this one was both uplifting and saddening at the same time. The premise of the book is how Bill learned to see a country be wooed by the siren song of prosperity through the guise of his own internal superhero persona, the Thunderbolt Kid. This is an engaging book which takes the reader back to simpler times, with plenty of Bryson's characteristic laugh-out-loud funny moments to go around. The Thunderbolt Kid persona is really a subtitle to the main idea of the book - a fond trip down memory lane to revisit America in a more innocent state. That was the saddening part of the book as well - the inevitable loss of innocence that prosperity and productivity brings makes one yearn for the days when going downtown was the highlight of the week, where people dressed up to go out, and where things were just more fun because people didn't know any better. Bryson's insightful commentary on how the American people used their newfound free time due to labor-saving devices to work ever harder in order to earn more money to buy yet more labor saving devices. The vicious cycle of not only keeping up with those cursed Joneses but rather outdoing them was born, and in the process simple pleasures like matinee movies, the corner drugstore with a soda fountain, and specialty stores were swept off of the face of North America. Reading this book is like sitting down with a grandparent or elder family member and just listening to them tell stories of the "good old days" and in Bryson's perspective, they really were good and we should all be sorry that they are gone forever. So take a read of this book, and see where we've been because it will put a whole new perspective on where we're going.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    Bryson played my funnybones like a xylophone! The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up in the '50s. It's the sort of coming of age tale that educates along the way. God, I love this stuff! It very much reminded me of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". Here on Goodreads, amongst all you worthy readers, I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read the short stories by Jean Shepherd that the movie is based upon. But if they're anything like the movie then they're filled with remembr Bryson played my funnybones like a xylophone! The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is about growing up in the '50s. It's the sort of coming of age tale that educates along the way. God, I love this stuff! It very much reminded me of the classic movie "A Christmas Story". Here on Goodreads, amongst all you worthy readers, I'm ashamed to say I haven't yet read the short stories by Jean Shepherd that the movie is based upon. But if they're anything like the movie then they're filled with remembrances of how things once were, which is the path Bryson takes. It's a nostalgic road at times. At others, it is sarcastic. Almost always it is humorous and engaging. Bryson has a way with words and a talent for feeding you history without making you gag. He also has my kind of sense of humor, so together these things are bound to deliver at least a very enjoyable read. However, this Thunder Bolt rockets into the stratosphere with HYPERBOLE!!! You read that right, Bryson often, intentionally writes over-the-top when describing outcomes and consequences of his many childhood tales. "Little Johnny's" chemistry set doesn't just blow up, it lifts the roof off the house. This is how a kid would tell the tale and it sets the perfect tone, creating a book that really draws you into those heady kid days where summer vacations lasted years, simple joys or disappointments were end-game emotions, and anything seemed possible.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mara

    Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa and the 1950s! There are some things you should be afraid of (mainly Communism, teenagers, and comic books not approved by the Comics Code Authority ). But, no need to worry! The Thunderbolt Kid (aka Bill Bryson ) will be your trusty tour guide. Ah, the 50s—a time when cigarettes made you healthy, your daily dose of amphetamines came in morning cereal, soda was the elixir of life, and prominent doctors defended a boy's right to be dirty.* In his tellta Welcome to Des Moines, Iowa and the 1950s! There are some things you should be afraid of (mainly Communism, teenagers, and comic books not approved by the Comics Code Authority ). But, no need to worry! The Thunderbolt Kid (aka Bill Bryson ) will be your trusty tour guide. Ah, the 50s—a time when cigarettes made you healthy, your daily dose of amphetamines came in morning cereal, soda was the elixir of life, and prominent doctors defended a boy's right to be dirty.* In his telltale jocular but informative manner, Bryson lets his readers in on some of his childhood exploits, as well as the hopes and fears of the era. He lets us enjoy the humors of hindsight, but manages to do so without sounding glib. The “let's suspend everything in JELL-O ” craze, revelation that cakes were best served upside-down , and miraculous advent of the TV dinner are no more bizarre than today's cuisine will seem, come 2040. The same holds true for technologies. The 1959 launch of the USS Barbero was thought to be just the first among many deliveries made by Missile Mail (spoiler alert: it was also the last). Need to buy a new pair of loafers? No problem! We'll just use this handy X-Ray Foot-o-Scope to find you the perfect fit (though, as Bryson mentions, this handy gadget was already on the way out as he was making his way into the world). How was your trip? I had a great time, thanks for asking. Three stars is a good rating by my measure. This wasn't the best time I've had with Bryson, and children of the 50s will likely have an added layer of nostalgic enjoyment that I just can't appreciate. Well, I'm off to turn on my breakfast—I can't be late for the family reunion in our self-flying car! ____________________________________________ * Dr. Harvey Fleck, as quoted in The Des Moines Register, August 28, 1958, stated that boys instinctively resisting frequent washings were, in fact, keepers of “a profound dermatological truth” that the skin's protective layer of grease, should not be overly disturbed.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Bill Bryson's travel writing is often hilarious and usually perceptive. In many ways this book – Bryson’s memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s - is also travel writing. In remembering and sharing his past, Bryson takes his readers to another place and time, both of which he vividly evokes in the narrative. I laughed a lot while listening to Bryson read the audiobook version of his memoir. At times I laughed so much that there was a risk my bus commute would be embarra Bill Bryson's travel writing is often hilarious and usually perceptive. In many ways this book – Bryson’s memoir of growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950s and 1960s - is also travel writing. In remembering and sharing his past, Bryson takes his readers to another place and time, both of which he vividly evokes in the narrative. I laughed a lot while listening to Bryson read the audiobook version of his memoir. At times I laughed so much that there was a risk my bus commute would be embarrassing and my driving commute would be dangerous. Bryson has a wonderful ability to find the ridiculous in most situations, as well as in himself, his family and everyone around him. He also has the gift of humorous exaggeration: some of the incidents he writes about are clearly tall tales, or at least tales that have been stretched for effect. This is not just a memoir, it is also a domestic history of the United States of the 1950s and 1960s: a limited history, it is true, of white Middle America, but an interesting history nevertheless. While Bryson has unashamed nostalgia for some aspects of that history, his criticism of other aspects of US history is pointed. I’m younger than Bryson (although by less than a decade) and I grew up far from Des Moines. My childhood was in almost all respects quite different from Bryson’s. Nevertheless, his childhood experiences – particularly the experiences of his early childhood – speak to me. In recounting his history, Bryson has the ability to get readers to reflect on their own past. It may be that some early childhood experiences are universal – for example, first days at school and relationships with siblings and friends. For me, Bryson's early childhood experiences are the most interesting part of that part of the books which is a personal memoir. It is fair to say that I found the last part of the book, which deals with Bryson’s teenage years, less engaging than the rest of it. Even though I have sons of my own, I find the shenanigans of teenage boys of limited interest, particularly when those shenanigans involve (view spoiler)[looking for porn and stealing beer (hide spoiler)] . One thing that struck me about Bryson’s discussion of high school was his take on relationships between white and African American students. I have no doubt that Bryson is sincere when he states that he did not witness racist behaviour. However, I wonder whether his African American high school contemporaries would share that view. Overall, listening to this audiobook was a great way to spend a few hours. Funny and at times moving, it is more than a series of anecdotes. In a relatively brief book, Bryson manages to cover a lot of territory, from family holidays, to parental eccentricities, to 1950s toys, to cigarette advertising, to atomic testing, to the building of Disneyland … and lots more.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    My first Bryson book. I will be reading more by the author. I enjoy the humor. I spot-checked the validity of the historical details thrown in and found them to be correct. This pleased me. Pseudonyms are used for the characters, except for his agent Jed Mattes. This seems perfectly reasonable. So what kind of book is this? What is it really about? I think the best way to describe it is as a book of snapshots of a kid's life in the fifties in Mid-America, rather than either a biography of Bryson My first Bryson book. I will be reading more by the author. I enjoy the humor. I spot-checked the validity of the historical details thrown in and found them to be correct. This pleased me. Pseudonyms are used for the characters, except for his agent Jed Mattes. This seems perfectly reasonable. So what kind of book is this? What is it really about? I think the best way to describe it is as a book of snapshots of a kid's life in the fifties in Mid-America, rather than either a biography of Bryson or a history book. Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, in the year 1951. I felt right at home, myself being born in Milwaukee the same year. It felt like going home. I felt this through the author's choice of words, the food we ate, the toys we shared, the movies we saw and the jokes and gadgets and life of a kid then and there. It is an enjoyable read. It’s entertaining! It’s light. Bryson narrates his own book. I liked his narration. He simply talks, rather quickly in fact, but I never had trouble following. This isn't a performance; he is simply telling his story. He doesn't, through intonation, point out the jokes. Either you catch them or you don't. I liked this too. Zero dramatization is fine by me. A friend told me he found the reading whiny. I didn't perceive it that way at all. I wonder why we differ. Everybody I ask has a different favorite by the author. So how do I pick the next?

  6. 4 out of 5

    Miranda Reads

    Young Bill Bryson always pictured himself as a superhero and in this novel, he is one. The Thunderbolt Kid is a somewhat fictionalized retelling of Bryson's childhood. Interspersing key events (such as the ever-present threat of nuclear war and humorous portrayals of his family) with the heroic efforts of the Thunderbolt Kill. Fun, charming and a bit precocious. Audiobook Comments Read by Bill Bryson - so cool when an author reads their own book! YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Snapchat @mira Young Bill Bryson always pictured himself as a superhero and in this novel, he is one. The Thunderbolt Kid is a somewhat fictionalized retelling of Bryson's childhood. Interspersing key events (such as the ever-present threat of nuclear war and humorous portrayals of his family) with the heroic efforts of the Thunderbolt Kill. Fun, charming and a bit precocious. Audiobook Comments Read by Bill Bryson - so cool when an author reads their own book! YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Snapchat @miranda.reads Happy Reading!

  7. 4 out of 5

    James

    This was the start of a definite return to form after a positive dip in the standard of Bill Bryson's books. What Bryson gives us here is all about growing up in 1950's America - largely autobiographical, although with Bryson's usually interesting and entertaining digressions, it's a strong book and a must for all fans of the world and works of Bill Bryson.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    America, the 1950s, and the golden age of plenty. Welcome to the world of Bill Bryson - the original Thunderbolt Kid. News paper clipping... SPRINGFIELD, ILL. (AP)—The State Senate of Illinois yesterday disbanded its Committee on Efficiency and Economy “for reasons of efficiency and economy.” —Des Moines Tribune, February 6, 1955 Bill recalls life from a child's viewpoint as America expanded into the world. I CAN’T IMAGINE there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America i America, the 1950s, and the golden age of plenty. Welcome to the world of Bill Bryson - the original Thunderbolt Kid. News paper clipping... SPRINGFIELD, ILL. (AP)—The State Senate of Illinois yesterday disbanded its Committee on Efficiency and Economy “for reasons of efficiency and economy.” —Des Moines Tribune, February 6, 1955 Bill recalls life from a child's viewpoint as America expanded into the world. I CAN’T IMAGINE there has ever been a more gratifying time or place to be alive than America in the 1950s. No country had ever known such prosperity. When the war ended the United States had $26 billion worth of factories that hadn’t existed before the war, $140 billion in savings and war bonds just waiting to be spent, no bomb damage, and practically no competition. All that American companies had to do was stop making tanks and battleships and start making Buicks and Frigidaires—and boy did they. By 1951, when I came sliding down the chute, almost 90 percent of American families had refrigerators, and nearly three-quarters had washing machines, telephones, vacuum cleaners, and gas or electric stoves—things that most of the rest of the world could still only fantasize about. Americans owned 80 percent of the world’s electrical goods, controlled two-thirds of the world’s productive capacity, produced more than 40 percent of its electricity, 60 percent of its oil, and 66 percent of its steel. The 5 percent of people on Earth who were Americans had more wealth than the other 95 percent combined. image: Remarkably, almost all this wealth was American made. Of the 7.5 million new cars sold in America in 1954, for instance, 99.93 percent were made in America by Americans. We became the richest country in the world without needing the rest of the world. The restaurant with atomic toilets - yes, really The restrooms at Bishop’s had the world’s only atomic toilets—at least the only ones I have ever encountered. When you flushed, the seat automatically lifted and retreated into a seat-shaped recess in the wall, where it was bathed in a purple light that thrummed in a warm, hygienic, scientifically advanced fashion, then gently came down again impeccably sanitized, nicely warmed, and practically pulsing with atomic thermoluminescence. Goodness knows how many Iowans died from unexplained cases of buttock cancer throughout the 1950s and ’60s, but it was worth every shriveled cheek. We used to take visitors from out of town to the restrooms at Bishop’s to show them the atomic toilets and they all agreed that they were the best they had ever seen. image: After sustaining a bloody wound on the back of his head Bill listens to his father call the doctor Doc,” he was saying. “You wouldn’t believe the amount of blood. We’re swimming in it.” On the other end I could hear Dr. Alzheimer’s dementedly laid-back voice. “Well, I could come over, I suppose,” he was saying. “It’s just that I’m watching an awfully good golf tournament. Ben Hogan is having a most marvelous round. Isn’t it wonderful to see him doing well at his time of life? Now then, have you managed to stop the bleeding?” “Well, I’m sure trying.” “Good, good. That’s excellent—that’s excellent. Because he’s probably lost quite a lot of blood already. Tell me, is the little fellow still breathing?” “I think so,” my father replied. I nodded helpfully. “Yes, he’s still breathing, Doc.” “That’s good, that’s very good. Okay, I tell you what. Give him two aspirin and nudge him once in a while to make sure he doesn’t pass out—on no account let him lose consciousness, do you hear, because you might lose the poor little fellow—and I’ll be over after the tournament. Oh, look at that—he’s gone straight off the green into the rough.” There was the sound of Dr. Alzheimer’s phone settling back into the cradle and the buzz of disconnection. image: Healthy Kids We were indestructible. We didn’t need seat belts, air bags, smoke detectors, bottled water, or the Heimlich maneuver. We didn’t require child-safety caps on our medicines. We didn’t need helmets when we rode our bikes or pads for our knees and elbows when we went skating. We knew without a written reminder that bleach was not a refreshing drink and that gasoline when exposed to a match had a tendency to combust. We didn’t have to worry about what we ate because nearly all foods were good for us: sugar gave us energy, red meat made us strong, ice cream gave us healthy bones, coffee kept us alert and purring productively. image: The 1950s was an innocent, more caring world On April 3, 1956, according to news reports, a Mrs. Julia Chase of Hagerstown, Maryland, while on a tour of the White House, slipped away from her tour group and vanished into the heart of the building. For four and a half hours, Mrs. Chase, who was described later as “dishevelled, vague and not quite lucid,” wandered through the White House, setting small fires—five in all. That’s how tight security was in those days: a not-quite-lucid woman was able to roam unnoticed through the executive mansion for more than half a working day. You can imagine the response if anyone tried anything like that now: the instantaneous alarms, the scrambled Air Force jets, the SWAT teams dropping from panels in the ceiling, the tanks rolling across the lawns, the ninety minutes of sustained gunfire pouring into the target area, the lavish awarding of medals of bravery afterward, including posthumously to the seventy-six people in Virginia and eastern Maryland killed by friendly fire. In 1956, Mrs. Chase, when found, was taken to the staff kitchen, given a cup of tea, and released into the custody of her family, and no one ever heard from her again. His dad liked to save money, especially on family holidays “Well, everybody,” he would announce, “this year I think we’ll tour battlefields of the little-known War of the Filipino Houseboys.” He would fix us with a look that invited cries of rapturous approval. “Oh, I’ve never heard of that,” my mom would say, politely feigning enthusiasm. “Well, it was actually more of a slaughter than a war,” he would concede. “It was over in three hours. But it’s quite convenient for the National Museum of Agricultural Implements at Haystacks. They have over seven hundred hoes apparently.” As he spoke he would spread out a map of the western United States, and point to some parched corner of Kansas or the Dakotas that no outsider had ever willingly visited before. image: Comic books the gateway to Reading The one place where there was real excitement was comic books. This really was the golden age of comics. Nearly one hundred million of them were being produced every month by the middle of the decade. It is almost impossible to imagine how central a place they played in the lives of the nation’s youth—and indeed more than a few beyond youth. A survey of that time revealed that no fewer than 12 percent of the nation’s teachers were devoted readers of comic books. (And that’s the ones who admitted it, of course.) Bill's first introduction to sex Coming in from play one Saturday and finding my mother missing from her usual haunts, I decided impulsively to call on my father. He had just returned that day from a long trip—and so we had a lot of catching up to do. I rushed into his bedroom, expecting to find him unpacking. To my surprise, the shades were drawn and my parents were in bed wrestling under the sheets. More astonishing still, my mother was winning. My father was obviously in some distress. He was making a noise like a small trapped animal. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Ah, Billy, your mother is just checking my teeth,” my father replied quickly if not altogether convincingly. We were all quiet a moment. “Are you bare under there?” I asked. “Why, yes we are.” “Why?” “Well,” my father said as if that was a story that would take some telling, “we got a bit warm. It’s warm work, teeth and gums and so on. Look, Billy, we’re nearly finished here. Why don’t you go downstairs and we’ll be down shortly.” I believe you are supposed to be traumatized by these things. I can’t remember being troubled at all, though it was some years before I let my mother look in my mouth again. The Cuba crisis and the start of World War Three Kennedy ordered Khrushchev to cease building launchpads in Cuba or else. The presidential address I saw was telling us that we were now at the “or else” part of the scenario. image: It was evident from Kennedy’s tone that all this was going to be the start of the War. So I went and ate the last piece of a Toddle House chocolate pie that had been promised to my sister, then hung around on the back porch, wishing to be the first to tell my parents the news that we were all about to die. When they arrived home they told me not to worry, that everything would be all right, and they were right of course as always. We didn’t die—though I came closer than anybody when my sister discovered that I had eaten her piece of pie. Bill was one of the lucky generation to be able to enjoy the prosperity of the golden age of America. His humorous tales of ""Kid World" adds delight to his memories. Enjoy!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom Carrico

    Book Review The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid By Bill Bryson Reviewed by Tom Carrico I am not usually one to enjoy a memoir. There always seems to be a certain smugness that someone must possess to have the audacity to think that their story is better than, well, mine. This memoir, however, is different. Bill Bryson’s childhood ruminations could belong to anybody who grew up in the 1950s. Change Des Moines, Iowa to Arlington, Virginia and this story could even be mine. If you are under 40 yo Book Review The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid By Bill Bryson Reviewed by Tom Carrico I am not usually one to enjoy a memoir. There always seems to be a certain smugness that someone must possess to have the audacity to think that their story is better than, well, mine. This memoir, however, is different. Bill Bryson’s childhood ruminations could belong to anybody who grew up in the 1950s. Change Des Moines, Iowa to Arlington, Virginia and this story could even be mine. If you are under 40 you probably won’t enjoy this book as much as those of us who actually endured this particular decade. This book reads like a “Saturday Night Live” send-up of David Halberstam’s The Fifties. Like Halberstam, Bryson touches on the many social and cultural events and changes of the 1950s including the space race, the development of the nuclear bomb, the evolution of the suburbs coupled with the decline of the inner cities and the emergence of television. This author, however, takes great pride in pointing out the absurdities and ironic inconsistencies of that era. He describes his refusal to participate in the required civil defense drills, pointing out to his elementary school teacher the absolute irrationality of thinking that crawling under a desk could protect a child from a nuclear explosion. I remember thinking these same thoughts as I toted bottled water and canned goods to St. Ann’s School in Arlington which happened to be three miles from the Pentagon. Unlike Bill Bryson, I did get under the desk when told to. I feared for my life, not from an A-bomb, but from the wrath of Sister Mary Angelus. The author was able to jog my feeble memory about certain items which are long gone. In one hilarious segment he describes the cumbersome winter boots we all had. Bill Bryson claims that the clasps, which required an incredible dexterity to fasten, were actually made from razor blades. He is equally as funny when describing how kids passed their time during the fifties. He explains that parents would kick the kids outdoors in the early morning and not expect to see them again until dinner time. The ridiculous toys of the era are recalled in great detail. The authors favorites were Lincoln Logs (where the box shows all of these great forts and structures and the contents are only enough to construct a small hut with one window), erector sets and electric football. It is hard to imagine in this day of Xbox and Playstation that electric football ever existed. I actually had two of these sets, one a hand-me-down from my cousin Mike. The author wryly and accurately describes setting up the players on the metal “field” and turning on the electricity which caused the field to vibrate and all of the plastic players to fall over or migrate towards the wrong goal line. There is also an awesome description of the complete disaster which was constructing plastic model airplane kits. The name of the book comes from the author’s fascination with comic book heroes. He constructed his own alter-ego and named him Thunderbolt Kid. He imagined his super powers and practiced making teachers and principals disappear. The greatest segments of Thunderbolt are when Bill Bryson recalls the early days of television. He muses over the physical differences between the comic book Superman and the flabby television version. He fondly recalls the Sky King show (and how Sky would fly around endlessly in his airplane for no particular reason) and his crush on Sky’s niece Penny. Tell the truth: didn’t we all have a crush on Penny? He also points out that television cowboys in the 50s never really shot anybody. They shot AT people, for sure, but usually just shot guns out of the bad guys’ hands or shot their hats off. Yes, it was a different era. The television anecdote that evoked the most vivid memory for me was his description of how Walt Disney used his television show to make every kid in America dream of going to Disneyland in Anaheim. For you youngsters, this was when Orlando was still a backwater town and Disney World didn’t exist. Bill Bryson’s family finally went and, by golly, so did mine. My sister and her husband moved to California in the sixties and I remember going to visit them and getting to go to Disneyland. I was about twelve or thirteen, I guess, and I remember standing on Main Street and looking at Cinderella’s Castle in absolute awe. They gave you a book of coupons on admission in those days when you paid to get in. The coupons had different values and colors and the E coupons were the good ones (for the Matterhorn ride and Space Mountain). I remember not wanting to use the last E coupon because then it would be time to leave. There are some serious moments here as well. Mr. Bryson notes that with the passage of time the family farm has basically disappeared from the American landscape. He also regrets the loss of the supreme optimism and sense of innocence which pervaded America in the 1950s. This is a must read for anyone born before 1955. For you youngsters, this book may help you understand why we boomers are as odd as we are. One warning, though: there are segments that are so funny you want to stop and tell everyone around you about them. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson is available in trade paperback from Broadway Books publishers.

  10. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    This was a hilarious memoir from Bill Bryson. I grew up in Iowa too, so it made the book even a little better. Highly recommended!

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Sarkies

    Baby Boomers Go to School 20 September 2016 I wasn't really sure about this book because while Bryson's story about his trek around the continental United States was very entertaining, and quite informative, the idea about reading about somebody's childhood didn't really appeal to me – I've never been a big fan of autobiographies (or biographies in general). However I never really thought much of travelogues either before I read The Lost Continent, but then I guess it had a lot to do with Bryson' Baby Boomers Go to School 20 September 2016 I wasn't really sure about this book because while Bryson's story about his trek around the continental United States was very entertaining, and quite informative, the idea about reading about somebody's childhood didn't really appeal to me – I've never been a big fan of autobiographies (or biographies in general). However I never really thought much of travelogues either before I read The Lost Continent, but then I guess it had a lot to do with Bryson's rather casual, and somewhat humorous, style of writing. Anyway, this book had been sitting on myself for a while so I decided it might be worth giving it a shot. While the book is technically an autobiography, it is more of an exploration of America in the 50s, and the way that Bryson paints the era leaves one shaking their heads at times. For instance, before Vegas was Vegas apparently people went there to watch nuclear bombs be detonated. As for television, well, the interesting thing that I noted that was in the fifties product placement wasn't just a vending machine in the background, it was somebody walking onto the set and actually plugging the product – it's something that I simply cannot imagine happening these days – even product placement, as blatant as it is at times, is nowhere as bad as what Bryson was describing. In a way it seems that the fifties, especially as a child, was a much more innocent age, but then again I wouldn't consider driving a truck around the suburbs spraying DDT everywhere, or cigarette advertising using doctors to actually plug their product, as innocent – ignorant maybe, but not innocent. Yet in another sense there does seem to be something a lot more innocent about that time, but then again it is a filter that tends to fall over our eyes when we look back on our younger years. For instance it seems as if children were a lot less delicate then than they are now – play equipment had rough edges and we seemed to be able to get away with a lot more then than kids are able to do today. Mind you, some of reasons that the rough edges have been taken off the play equipment is because people are always looking to blame somebody for their misfortunes, and lawyers seem to have no problems encouraging people to look for that someone. I still remember when I took a couch home from work because they no longer needed it, or food was given to the homeless – not anymore, because the legal team have identified that as being too risky and exposes the company to unnecessary litigation. In a way the fifties was certainly a special time, even though it covered are a lot of dark (or not so dark) secrets. The United States had come out on top during World War II and had almost an endless period of peace and prosperity before them. Sure, the Iron Curtain pretty quickly descended across Europe, but that was a minor issue that needed to be solved – particularly since it was a European problem as there were two massive moats separating the United States from any potential threat (and Canada is technicality an eternal friend, while Mexico ...). As such it seemed that the citizens of the United States could live a life of blissful freedom and enjoy the wealth and prosperity that had fallen upon its citizens. Mind you, as I mentioned, there was a dark underside of all of this, particularly in relation to the idea of free speech – there really wasn't any. Okay, there was, as long as you didn't identify with certain groups, such as communists, socialists, or pretty much anybody left of Joseph McCarthy (though he did end up getting himself in a lot of trouble when he started suggesting that the Army was full of communist sympathisers). Actually the whole McCarthy era, and the idea of the reds under the beds, seems to be quite similar to another time period that we are quite familiar with, though the difference is that during the McCarthy period one couldn't necessarily blame immigrants (or people of a particular religious grouping) because the concern was entirely political, and in reality anybody could actually be a communist. The Cold War did create a rather different environment though – as was suggested that the United States actually spent more on the military during a time of peace than they actually did throughout World War II. Mind you, while it may have been technically a time of peace, the spectre of war was always hanging over their heads, especially with the development of long range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Actually, what is interesting is that despite all of the military spending it was the Russians that made the advances – such as with space flight and with the development of the ICBM, and it was the Americans that were, at least until the 60s, playing catchup. Yet interestingly when we come to the 1960s everything seems to change – I guess it was then that America technically lost its innocence (or at least the innocence of the 50s). Not only were they confronted with a Russia that was technologically ahead of them (namely because the business of the United States was business, so if it didn't make money then there was no point in investing in it), but we also had the Vietnam War, which turned out to be pretty disastrous. Actually, the whole kafuffle with Cuba was pretty disastrous as well (and it is interesting that there is a suggestion that the whole missile crisis, which came about when the CIA believed that the Russians were trying to install missile sites in Cuba, completely missed the fact that there were quite a lot of missiles in Cuba anyway, and when the Russians agreed to remove the missiles, the United States reneged on their agreement to dismantle in missiles in Turkey – and my Dad said that the Russians couldn't be trusted). So, what we have here is the life of your typical Baby Boomer (well, probably not your typical one because Bryson has written a number of books), the generation who actually probably had it the best. Okay, I got away with a lot more in my childhood and teenage years than what kids of today would get away with, but it seems as if this particular generation, when they grew up, literally walked into a job, and if they didn't get the first one they applied for, they would certainly get the second. In many ways they are also the ones that seem to own all of the properties, thanks to financial advisors who informed them that the value of property never falls (and they also were able to pay of their houses in much shorter times, as well has had a great environment in which to save, and to invest – which is certainly not the case at the moment). Sure, they may not have had video arcades, or Nintendoes, and when it came to special effects the movies were pretty shocking, but the impression that I got was that they had fun, and they had fun outside. The thing that struck me the most with this book though was how Bryson describes the city of Des Moines. Sure, it is a small city (probably not much different to the city I grew up in, though I do get the impression that maybe Adelaide was a little bigger), but what he loved about it was all the different stores that lined main street. It is something that I actually quite like a well – variety. Sure, the idea that it doesn't matter what McDonalds you walk into you know what you are going to get does have its appeal, but there is something enchanting about the little coffee shop, or the independent bookshop, or even the hole in the wall bar. These little businesses gives us some character, and some life, to a city, or even a town, something that chain stores don't. They are what makes every city and town unique, because if all you end up having are chain stores, and big box department stores, then in end it simply becomes some plastic carbon copy of the place just down the road.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    I listened to this on CD, read by the author, so of course it was wonderful. I'll definitely be seeking it out in print at some point. Things go by so fast on audio that you can't go back and re-enjoy the really good parts. Even if you don't give a rodent's posterior about Iowa, this book is thoroughly enjoyable. Bryson is hilarious while at the same time providing a lot of interesting historical things about the 1950s and 60s, both the good and the bad. He really tells a great story about his o I listened to this on CD, read by the author, so of course it was wonderful. I'll definitely be seeking it out in print at some point. Things go by so fast on audio that you can't go back and re-enjoy the really good parts. Even if you don't give a rodent's posterior about Iowa, this book is thoroughly enjoyable. Bryson is hilarious while at the same time providing a lot of interesting historical things about the 1950s and 60s, both the good and the bad. He really tells a great story about his ordinary but wonderful childhood in Des Moines. The best laughs are early on in the book, dealing with his earlier years. Later on in the book, Bryson discusses how drastically things have changed since then, and how sad it is that some of those simpler times are gone forever.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    the bloody head-bashing-in-story. that was the critical turning point in the novel-reading for me, personally. the moment i realized bill bryson is a comedic wonderchild. the moment i was simultaneously overjoyed to have discovered him as a writer and depressed i wasted so much time trying to pretend erma bombeck could truly capture the lasting effects of one's childhood experiences with sex ed. the moment i spit an unhealthy mixture of sprite and airline peanuts all over the back of a poor old l the bloody head-bashing-in-story. that was the critical turning point in the novel-reading for me, personally. the moment i realized bill bryson is a comedic wonderchild. the moment i was simultaneously overjoyed to have discovered him as a writer and depressed i wasted so much time trying to pretend erma bombeck could truly capture the lasting effects of one's childhood experiences with sex ed. the moment i spit an unhealthy mixture of sprite and airline peanuts all over the back of a poor old lady sitting five inches in front of me on my southwest flight, i was trying to curb my hysterical laughter so hard. I finished the entire thing between Arizona and JFK, even with periodic breaks for adjusting my chair angle repetitively and making the two morbidly obese young women between me and the aisle get up so I could use the bathroom. At one point, I cried (because it was funny. Not because one of the aforementioned young women ate an entire tube of pringles in my ear in the last hour). It was either the match throwing incidident or the description of his mother's burn unit. the thing about bryson is that he isn't playing for laughs, and he knows how to make the exposition go down smooth. after all, who could really sit through one more history lesson on the glorious 1950's. plenty of great refresher courses tucked away in the hysterical ramblings and reminiscence, though...reader's might take note at the little known united fruit escapade in guatamala. my 10th grade social studies teacher conveniently skipped that lesson.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Diane

    My son has been raving about Bill Bryson's for some time now, but I was not sure that they would appeal to me. After hearing others rave about his memoir: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, I thought this might be a fun audio book. I am sorry I waited so long to try Bryson's work. This memoir was terrific. It leaves you with a feeling of appreciation for the simple things in life. Bill Bryson and I were born a year apart, and as baby boomers growing up in the 50's and 60's, I found this m My son has been raving about Bill Bryson's for some time now, but I was not sure that they would appeal to me. After hearing others rave about his memoir: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, I thought this might be a fun audio book. I am sorry I waited so long to try Bryson's work. This memoir was terrific. It leaves you with a feeling of appreciation for the simple things in life. Bill Bryson and I were born a year apart, and as baby boomers growing up in the 50's and 60's, I found this memoir to be a trip down memory lane. He talks about his mom's bad cooking, his strange relatives, going to the store for penny candy (candy cigarettes), playing outdoors until dark, first crushes, Saturday at the movies, loss of innocence etc. He could be describing a whole lot of baby boomers in this memoir. This book is hysterical, and there were many times I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. The audio version is highly recommended.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Please note: am at the mercy of book exchanges and personal swaps with fellow travelers. With that said, I made this trade against my better judgment because I was flirting with a 20 year old, another lapse in judgment, apparently. Anyway, he championed this book as very funny and a very popular author in UK in general. This struck me as odd as he is American and we have a thirst as of late for the comedic essay or memoir. After reading this book, I realize why he is only popular in the UK and no Please note: am at the mercy of book exchanges and personal swaps with fellow travelers. With that said, I made this trade against my better judgment because I was flirting with a 20 year old, another lapse in judgment, apparently. Anyway, he championed this book as very funny and a very popular author in UK in general. This struck me as odd as he is American and we have a thirst as of late for the comedic essay or memoir. After reading this book, I realize why he is only popular in the UK and not in his homeland--because he sucks. Not only was this book not funny (Mr. Sedaris, rest easy; you are still the funniest expat author, maybe funniest author of our age. Plus, you are charming and I long to befriend both you and Hugh and host a weird dinner party in your honor...), but it is also poorly structured. The basic idea he is alter ego is a superhero, but he fails to maintain this POV throughout the book, or even three chapters of eleven. He meaders into fluff history essays that at times are racist--not funny, wildly inappropriate. I'm sorry, UK, your golden age of literature is evidently over and I take no responsibility for this American--he has clearly rejected us and I would like to return the favor. DO NOT READ. LEARN FROM ME.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Books Ring Mah Bell

    As I look back upon all the memoirs I have read, I realize most are horribly tragic in some way. People surviving genocide, child abuse, and/or rape. One lady lost the majority of her face to cancer. No wonder I'm so depressed! Bryson's autobiography, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. Nothing tragic. In fact, his childhood is rather idyllic. In no way does that imply that it is boring or lacking in any way. Bryson, a child of the 50's, captures all the excitement of growing up in pos As I look back upon all the memoirs I have read, I realize most are horribly tragic in some way. People surviving genocide, child abuse, and/or rape. One lady lost the majority of her face to cancer. No wonder I'm so depressed! Bryson's autobiography, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. Nothing tragic. In fact, his childhood is rather idyllic. In no way does that imply that it is boring or lacking in any way. Bryson, a child of the 50's, captures all the excitement of growing up in post WW2 era. Atomic toilets at the local cafe, x-ray machines at the shoe store, tree house peep shows, and duck and cover drills. One of my favorite parts was when Bryson realized his desk would not save him from the bomb, so he opte out of the drills. While the teacher and his classmates huddled under desks, he'd simply sit and enjoy a comic book. The only way this could be better is if Bryson were to tell it to me, in person, over a few beers. An extraordinary read of an ordinary life.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Often laugh-out-loud funny and infinitely nostalgic, this is a charming read (and great gift) for anyone born in the early 1950's. Yes, some of Bryson's observations are already cliches - old people are slow, pre-teen boys are horny - but these are grossly outweighed by his insights into the stupid toys we played with, the terrible candies we ate, the dumb movies we sat through... For a college dropout, Bryson is a remarkably smart guy. He's not only written numerous travel books, both internatio Often laugh-out-loud funny and infinitely nostalgic, this is a charming read (and great gift) for anyone born in the early 1950's. Yes, some of Bryson's observations are already cliches - old people are slow, pre-teen boys are horny - but these are grossly outweighed by his insights into the stupid toys we played with, the terrible candies we ate, the dumb movies we sat through... For a college dropout, Bryson is a remarkably smart guy. He's not only written numerous travel books, both international and domestic (including A Walk in the Woods, which was made into a Robert Redford movie; but more recently branched out into both science (A Short History of Nearly Everything) and cultural history (At Home) - all of which, it goes without saying, being equally informative and amusing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Diane

    Like every other Bill Bryson book I've read, this one is utterly delightful, hilarious, endearing and charming. I'm sure my husband grew tired of hearing me laugh out loud when I would stay up late reading, but I couldn't help it -- Bryson's stories are too funny to hold in the giggles. There's also a good bit of U.S. history in the book to ground the chapters, but Bryson even manages to make the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear annihilation seem humorous. This book would make a grea Like every other Bill Bryson book I've read, this one is utterly delightful, hilarious, endearing and charming. I'm sure my husband grew tired of hearing me laugh out loud when I would stay up late reading, but I couldn't help it -- Bryson's stories are too funny to hold in the giggles. There's also a good bit of U.S. history in the book to ground the chapters, but Bryson even manages to make the Cuban missile crisis and the threat of nuclear annihilation seem humorous. This book would make a great gift for anyone who grew up in the 50s or who grew up in the Midwest. (Don't tell my dad -- he's getting this book for his birthday.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rodger

    The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a must read for anyone who grew up in the fifties and sixties. He captures life in the fifties and early sixties through the lens of a pre-teen boy. Though he grew up in one of Iowa's larger cities and I grew up in a small New Mexico town, the experiences are very similiar. Be ready to laugh out loud, but beware, he uses some language that I would have been given the old "Wash your mouth out with soap" treatment.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trelawn

    An interesting and quirky snapshot of Des Moines in the 1950s told from the perspective of a young, would-be superhero. Typically Bryson with some seriously laugh out loud moments (the tv clothing range in particular got me). This was a quick, fun read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Isabel

    Let me sum up this book for you. If you are interested in learning about Iowa in the 1950s then this is your book. Detailed stories of movie theaters, diners, homelife, politcal news/history, social norms, etc. If the thought of reading 300 pages about Iowa in the 50s does not appeal to you - this book is NOT for you. AGAIN: WAKE UP GOODREADS (I would have given the book 1.5 stars if that was an option...I mean I did finish it. I didn't throw it out the window and call it trash...but I wouldn't go Let me sum up this book for you. If you are interested in learning about Iowa in the 1950s then this is your book. Detailed stories of movie theaters, diners, homelife, politcal news/history, social norms, etc. If the thought of reading 300 pages about Iowa in the 50s does not appeal to you - this book is NOT for you. AGAIN: WAKE UP GOODREADS (I would have given the book 1.5 stars if that was an option...I mean I did finish it. I didn't throw it out the window and call it trash...but I wouldn't go as far as to say it was ok). I'm not really sure why the author thought his childhood was so fascinating that people would want to read about it. The fact that he calls Iowa in the 50s perfect...but then as an adult moves to England puzzles me to say the least. Yes, there are some cute moments throughout the book. But all in all - I just couldn't find myself caring about him or any of the people mentioned. I learned some interesting facts about that era and it's always nice to open your mind about the past. Nonetheless, I found it a bit boring with an air of arrogance.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gary the Bookworm

    Bill Bryson makes magic in this heartfelt memoir about his childhood in Iowa in the 1950's. His take on the forces which shaped American life mid-century, in the middle of the country, is spot-on hilarious. Exaggerating the ordinary and reveling in the extraordinary, he offers up an unforgettable depiction of the decade that shaped modern America. For all its innocence, the cultural landscape was shifting inexorably, driven by the explosion of television and the preponderance of the automobile. Bill Bryson makes magic in this heartfelt memoir about his childhood in Iowa in the 1950's. His take on the forces which shaped American life mid-century, in the middle of the country, is spot-on hilarious. Exaggerating the ordinary and reveling in the extraordinary, he offers up an unforgettable depiction of the decade that shaped modern America. For all its innocence, the cultural landscape was shifting inexorably, driven by the explosion of television and the preponderance of the automobile. Bryson captures these shifts in a manner which is familiar, yet uniquely his own. Anyone who is-or knows-a baby boomer, has to read this.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elyse

    Bill Bryson was a bit of a juvenile delinquent. This surprised me. His friend Stephen Katz of "A Walk in the Woods" fame was one too, but worse. Which doesn't surprise me. Since I'm only a few years younger than the author I was able to enjoy his description of life in the 1950's. To someone of a much younger age this book might not be so enjoyable. I recommend it to nostaligic Americans who have reached their early "Golden Years".

  24. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Juhl

    This is an addendum to my previous review. I had to read this for my book club this month and as it was an enjoyable trip down a nostalgic lane for this Iowa boy, I found something oddly revealing in Bryson's glowing adoration for the 1950s. I couldn't help but think of Bryson and other's his age, or those slightly older who were teens in the 50s and witnessed the single largest economic boom in our history. Everything was for the taking. America was great (read into that what you must, because i This is an addendum to my previous review. I had to read this for my book club this month and as it was an enjoyable trip down a nostalgic lane for this Iowa boy, I found something oddly revealing in Bryson's glowing adoration for the 1950s. I couldn't help but think of Bryson and other's his age, or those slightly older who were teens in the 50s and witnessed the single largest economic boom in our history. Everything was for the taking. America was great (read into that what you must, because it's intended here). Jobs! Television! Cars! Houses! Wonder Bread and Twinkies! Nehi soda! Jesus, what's not to be appreciated about the decade? If you were white and middle class, the nation was your oyster. What I missed in my first reading was Bryson's random allusions to government misdeeds, scams, and nefarious politics (see United Fruit in Guatemala). Sadly, or maybe not, Joey was obviously upset by my reading and its interference with his being worshipped and adored as a dog should be and he decided to destroy my copy before I could finish the last few pages. And as Groucho Marx once noted: “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” The Thunderbolt Kid is wildly funny, a simple memoir of Bryson's childhood in Des Moines in the 1950s. Oddly enough, change comes slowly to Iowa and I could relate to much of his experience and sentiment having spent my own Iowa childhood in the 1960s.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael Endo

    Even though this is a memoir it is difficult not to think about it in the context of other superhero/childhood stories. Kavalier and Clay and Fortress of Solitude come to mind. Among these books the Thunderbold Kid falls flat. The image Bryson paints of the fifties is truly magnificent. He really captures the excitement of the beginning of the space age. It is when he is elaborating on this time that I am captivated, but when he speaks specifically about his own life I get a little bored. His l Even though this is a memoir it is difficult not to think about it in the context of other superhero/childhood stories. Kavalier and Clay and Fortress of Solitude come to mind. Among these books the Thunderbold Kid falls flat. The image Bryson paints of the fifties is truly magnificent. He really captures the excitement of the beginning of the space age. It is when he is elaborating on this time that I am captivated, but when he speaks specifically about his own life I get a little bored. His life seems so cliche. Paper route, penny pinching father, evil dog, porn magazines, bully kid, smart kid, annoying kid, drunk kid ... etc. How sad, I thought, that his life was just a loose assemblage of every coming of age movie ever made. One aspect that could have made it different was the Thunderbolt Kid, but his presence was so minute that at one point I had forgotten he existed. I really feel that if a character is in the title (The thunderbolt kid for instance) that character should have more of a presence than just a snide snippet at the end of an occasional paragraph. I did not, however, hate the book. It is funny, well written and makes a good case against shopping malls and chain stores. It is just a little long winded at times, and the Thunderbold Kid parts seem especially pointless. All in all it's just OK.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    I read Bryson's memoir of growing up in the 1950s as research for my own memoir. As he did in A Walk in the Woods, he had me laughing out loud, long and hard. But the biggest revelation for me was the huge disparity between life as a boy child and life as a girl child during that decade. At least from his point of view, boys had much more freedom to roam, they were encouraged to be physical (sports, getting into fights, etc) and daring (trying cigarettes and booze, ditching school.) Emulating su I read Bryson's memoir of growing up in the 1950s as research for my own memoir. As he did in A Walk in the Woods, he had me laughing out loud, long and hard. But the biggest revelation for me was the huge disparity between life as a boy child and life as a girl child during that decade. At least from his point of view, boys had much more freedom to roam, they were encouraged to be physical (sports, getting into fights, etc) and daring (trying cigarettes and booze, ditching school.) Emulating superheroes played a huge role in establishing a boy's identity. His mother worked outside the home; mine stayed at home being a housewife. His dad was a sports writer and traveled often; my dad was a secret writer but was home every night. Making parallels is always tricky. I was reminded of the polio scare, how bad it was at the dentist, the things we didn't worry about such as fallout from nuclear testing, food additives and those clouds of DDT spray. When I returned to my own writing, I had been fairly annihilated. Compared to Bryson's hyperbolic humor, my own recounting sounded serious, perhaps dull. It took a while but as I found my own voice again I also had to admit that for this female, growing up in the 1950s was not that funny.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Vikas

    Awesome memoir and it was a fun read. The photos are nice, the news clips are hilarious. 1950s US was quite like India of 1990s but of course India was poorer by a lot of margin. Thunderbolt kid was awesome and it was good to visit a town of past. Now I am on to his other book * A walk in the woods* as always keep on reading. People who don't read generally ask me my reasons for reading. Simply put I just love reading and so to that end I have made it my motto to just Keep on Reading. I love to r Awesome memoir and it was a fun read. The photos are nice, the news clips are hilarious. 1950s US was quite like India of 1990s but of course India was poorer by a lot of margin. Thunderbolt kid was awesome and it was good to visit a town of past. Now I am on to his other book * A walk in the woods* as always keep on reading. People who don't read generally ask me my reasons for reading. Simply put I just love reading and so to that end I have made it my motto to just Keep on Reading. I love to read everything except for Self Help books but even those once in a while. I read almost all the genre but YA, Fantasy, Biographies are the most. My favorite series is, of course, Harry Potter but then there are many more books that I just adore. I have bookcases filled with books which are waiting to be read so can't stay and spend more time in this review, so remember I loved reading this and love reading more, you should also read what you love and then just Keep on Reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    The Gallup Poll people apparently have established that 1957 was the happiest year for people living in America. (I think we can assume that Gallup means middle class white people.) THUNDERBOLT KID is Bill Bryson's remembrance of his childhood in those happy times. Bryson grew up in Des Moines IA, in the bucolic 1950s. His childhood was largely unremarkable, but he is such a talented story teller that reading him recount episodes of childhood is unfailingly entertaining and, often, laugh out loud The Gallup Poll people apparently have established that 1957 was the happiest year for people living in America. (I think we can assume that Gallup means middle class white people.) THUNDERBOLT KID is Bill Bryson's remembrance of his childhood in those happy times. Bryson grew up in Des Moines IA, in the bucolic 1950s. His childhood was largely unremarkable, but he is such a talented story teller that reading him recount episodes of childhood is unfailingly entertaining and, often, laugh out loud funny. THUNDERBOLT is not memorable. You will not learn anything from it. But you will be distracted pleasantly. And you might wind up wishing that you had been able to read his dad's sports reporting for the Des Moines Register. The elder Bryson seems to have been an especially good baseball writer.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    There are definitely laugh out loud portions of this book, particularly the sections on elementary school and cinema matinees. Bryson captures with feeling the atmosphere of the 50’s. There were a ‘lot’ of kids in the 50’s and early sixties. Stores and downtowns were different. There is a kind of ‘Peanuts’ quality to this era. There was a security blanket which is now lost. Bryson does extend the truth and it is difficult at times to know how stretched out the exaggerations are – kids building bom There are definitely laugh out loud portions of this book, particularly the sections on elementary school and cinema matinees. Bryson captures with feeling the atmosphere of the 50’s. There were a ‘lot’ of kids in the 50’s and early sixties. Stores and downtowns were different. There is a kind of ‘Peanuts’ quality to this era. There was a security blanket which is now lost. Bryson does extend the truth and it is difficult at times to know how stretched out the exaggerations are – kids building bombs in their own homes would carry completely different connotations in this day and age.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ensiform

    A memoir of the humor and travel writer’s childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa in the ‘50s, which he characterizes as an era of material comfort, production, consumption, happiness, endearing naïveté, embrace of changes the future would bring, and a general carefree attitude. (The title comes from a super-hero fantasy he indulged in as a child.) Lingering with affectionate nostalgia over the baseball parks, unique mom and pop shops and department stores, childhood games, and newspaper r A memoir of the humor and travel writer’s childhood and adolescence in Des Moines, Iowa in the ‘50s, which he characterizes as an era of material comfort, production, consumption, happiness, endearing naïveté, embrace of changes the future would bring, and a general carefree attitude. (The title comes from a super-hero fantasy he indulged in as a child.) Lingering with affectionate nostalgia over the baseball parks, unique mom and pop shops and department stores, childhood games, and newspaper routes of his youth, he mostly takes the wistful tone of the man who thinks the world has been going downhill ever since he personally left school. He does touch on some of the bleaker aspects of the decade, such as the lax attitude toward dangerous substances, the cold war, nuclear proliferation, a fascistic and pharisaical tendency toward censorship in the government, and some very ugly racism – but as a child in a nearly totally Methodist, white middle-class neighborhood, these did not touch him. Indeed, he characterizes himself as a perspicacious child (though a very poor student) who, for example, saw immediately that the ludicrous duck-and-cover drill would not save him from nuclear explosions, so chose to ignore them. Normally I am wary of memoirs by people who have not lived especially interesting lives (and everyone seems to think their own childhood, with its same cruel kids’ games and wide-eyed wonder as everyone else’s, deserves a book). I would probably not have read this book, despite having read and enjoyed others by Bryson, if it weren’t part of a project in which others choose books for me to read. As it is, Bryson more than justifies the innate arrogance of the memoir. For one thing, he is supremely funny: some passages had me uncontrollably laughing, literally until tears streamed down my face. While wit and an amusing turn of phrase are common enough, outside of Wodehouse and Adams it’s the rare writer who can cause actual bouts of laughter. Second, underneath the bright nostalgia is a very real lesson: that what was arguably one of America’s happiest periods coincided with an open mind to scientific advancement, self-sustaining manufacturing and farming, and local entrepreneurship flourishing before the rise of faceless and flavorless monolithic corporations. Truly an era that is gone.

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