Notes from a Small Island

Version: Abridged
Author: Bill Bryson
Narrator: Bill Bryson
Genres: Travel, Europe
Publisher: Random House Audio Voices
Published In: May 1998
# of Units: 5 CDs
Length: 6 hours
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"Suddenly, in the space of a moment, I realized what it was that I loved about Britain--which is to say, all of it. Every last bit of it, good and bad--old churches, country lanes, people saying 'Mustn't grumble' and 'I'm terribly sorry but,' people apologizing to me when I conk them with a careless elbow, milk in bottles, beans on toast, haymaking in June, seaside piers, Ordinance Survey maps, tea and crumpets, summer showers and foggy winter evenings--every bit of it."

After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson, the acclaimed author of such bestsellers as The Mother Tongue and Made in America, decided it was time to move back to the United States for a while. This was partly to let his wife and kids experience life in Bryson's homeland--and partly because he had read that 3.7 million Americans believed that they had been abducted by aliens at one time or another. It was thus clear to him that his people needed him.

But before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain, a sort of valedictory tour of the green and kindly island that had so long been his home. His aim was to take stock of modern-day Britain, and to analyze what he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, zebra crossings, and place names like Farleigh Wallop, Titsey, and Shellow Bowells.

With characteristic wit and irreverence, Bill Bryson presents the ludicrous and the endearing in equal measure. The result is a hilarious social commentary that conveys the true glory of Britain.

Reviews (12)


Written by CJ from Goodlettsville, TN on May 30th, 2014

  • Book Rating: 2/5

I am new to the Bill Bryson bandwagon - I know, where have I been?... As a dual citizen who has spent a lot of time in both England and America, I thought I'd find a lot to love in this book. It had a promising start, I liked Mr. Bryson's humour (at first)... Then reality kicked in. I don't know whether Bryson was trying to convince himself he was doing the right thing in moving away from England and back to the States, but for all his "don't get me wrong - I love England" pronouncements, he didn't seem to find much to love (or even like) about any of the places or people he encountered. After a while the jokes rang hollow, and I found myself wondering "To what book were all those 5-star ratings referring?!" I don't ever write reviews, but I really was SO disappointed with Bryson's tone, attitude, and narrative that I had to add my two cents. Another country heard from, shall we say...

Great work

Written by hyperbole lover on August 9th, 2010

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Bill Bryson is funny and interesting. I know that some people hate his voice, I happen to enjoy it. It adds to his quirky sense of humor. Classic Bill Bryson.


Written by Anonymous from Elmira, NY on September 20th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 5/5

I laughed out loud at times! Bill Bryson has a way with bringing you on the trip with him as he moves around the public transport system of Britian. Very enjoyable. As always Bill Bryson never fails to entertain.

Notes from a Small Island

Written by Anonymous on September 4th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I really like Bill Bryson books and although I really like his travel books, I didn't find as detail as I have his other travel books. His sense of humor helps me understand what it would really be like to visit some of the places he mentions. I'll continue to read his books as I will never travel as much as he does, but will get a sense of the place through his eyes and humor which seem to be along the same waves as mine.

Notes from a Small Island

Written by Anonymous on June 29th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

A wonderfully funny book and hearing the author read it was even better than reading it myself. Don't be fooled by the music that swells up at odd times; the book isn't over (and the music will go away). A great summertime book for the long drive to the lake or beach.

Notes from a small island

Written by Taos B&B lady on November 4th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Perhaps it helps to be English or to have lived in England for a longish time to really appreciate Bryson's wry observations, droll commentary and no punches pulled opinions. For those of us who fit that criterion, the book is an absolute gem as Bryson gives eloquent voice to our thoughts and feelings about the Highlands, the Fens and Dales, Dover, Brit rail and Calais shopping. Hw writes like the Anglophile he is and can point out warts and scars that only a lover would know.

If you like David Sedaris, you'll love this book!

Written by Melissa Menz from Dallas, TX on July 14th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 5/5

When I first started listening, I was immediately reminded of David Sedaris. Their styles are very similar and quite enjoyable. This is a laugh-out-loud kind of book and kept me smiling all the way through.

An enjoyable travel guide

Written by Anonymous on December 6th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 4/5

Bill Byrson is as witty as ever. And this also could double as a 'real person' travelogue -- found myself wanting to map my own UK trip using the book as a travel guide.

I love Bill Bryson;

Written by Anonymous from Brandon, MS on September 20th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 3/5

however I did not love this book. As I have never been to Britain, it could certainly just be that I couldn't relate. His typical dry humor was present, I just couldn't keep my mind on it. Anyway, I just don't think this was his best work. Not bad but worth a listen.

couldn't keep my interest

Written by Chris on July 25th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I am a big fan of bill bryson, having listened to Walk in the woods, Sunburned Country and Short History, and think the man is hilarious. But this one couldn't keep my interest. When it was slapsticky, or very mean, it was funny, but i found myself not really listening to it most of the time, and just wanting to be done with it. Listen to A Walk in the Woods or In a Sunburned Country if you have never listened to Bill Bryson before. Sorry I can't be more specific about what I didn't like, but I just don't remember any of the book, and I think that says something.

Author Details

Author Details

Bryson, Bill

Bill Bryson was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the son of William and Mary Bryson. He has an older brother, Michael, and a sister, Mary Elizabeth.

Bryson was educated at Drake University but dropped out in 1972, deciding to backpack around Europe for four months. He returned to Europe the following year with his high-school friend, the pseudonymous Stephen Katz. Some of his experiences from this trip are relived as flashbacks in Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, which documents a similar journey Bryson made twenty years later.

Bryson first visited the United Kingdom 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. It was there that he met a nurse named Cynthia, whom he eventually married. The couple returned to the USA in 1975 so Bryson could complete his college degree, after which, in 1977, they settled in England, where they remained until 1995. Living in North Yorkshire and mainly working as a journalist, Bryson eventually became chief sub 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. Still living in Yorkshire, Bryson started writing independently and in 1990 their fourth and final child, Sam, was born.

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 the United Kingdom and Canada. In 2003, however, the Brysons and their four children returned to England, and now live near Wymondham, Norfolk.

Also in 2003, in conjunction with World Book Day, voters in the United Kingdom chose Bryson's book Notes from a Small Island as that which best sums up British identity and the state of the nation.[1] 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.[2] 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",[3] Bryson himself makes no such claim, and a list of seven reported errors in the book is available online, identifying the chapter in which each appears but with no page or line references. In 2005, the book won the EU Descartes Prize for science communication.[2]

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 criticism from academics in the field, who claimed they contained factual errors, urban myths, and folk etymologies. Though Bryson has no formal linguistics qualifications, he is generally a well-regarded writer on the subject of languages.

In 2005, Bryson was appointed Chancellor of Durham University,[3] succeeding the late Sir Peter Ustinov, and has been particularly active with student activities, even appearing in a Durham student film: the sequel to The Assassinator and promoting litter picks in the city[4]. He had praised Durham as "a perfect little city" in Notes from a Small Island. He has also been awarded honorary degrees by numerous universities.

In 2006, Bryson ran (as part of a celebrity relay team) in the Tresco marathon, the Scillian equivalent of the London marathon. The same year, Frank Cownie, the mayor of Des Moines, awarded Bryson the key to the city and announced that October 21, 2006 would be known as, Bill Bryson - "The Thunderbolt Kid" day.[5]

In November 2006, Bryson interviewed Prime Minister Tony Blair on the state of science and education.[6]

On December 13, 2006, Bryson was awarded an honorary OBE for his contribution to literature.[7] The following year, he was awarded the James Joyce Award of the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin.

In January 2007, Bryson was the Schwartz Visiting Fellow of the Pomfret School in Connecticut.[8]

In May 2007, he became the President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.[9][10] His first area focus in this role was the establishment of an anti-littering campaign across England. He discussed the future of the countryside with Richard Mabey, Sue Clifford, Nicholas Crane and Richard Girling at CPRE's Volunteer Conference in November 2007.