The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

Paperback | September 25, 2007

byBill Bryson

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From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is “laugh-out-loud funny.”

Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came from his discovery, at the age of six, of a woollen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people’s hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.

Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” In this hilarious new memoir, he travels back to explore the kid he once was and the weird and wonderful world of 1950s America. He modestly claims that this is a book about not very much: about being small and getting much larger slowly. But for the rest of us, it is a laugh-out-loud book that will speak volumes – especially to anyone who has ever been young.

From the Hardcover edition.

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From the Publisher

From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is “laugh-out-loud funny.”Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of...

From the Jacket

“Outlandishly and improbably entertaining. . . . An evocation of childhood that’s movingly true, no exaggeration necessary.” —The New York Times“An entertaining romp of a book. . . . By the end of this vaudeville bill of a memoir, [Bryson] has you wishing you’d grown up in Des Moines in the 1950s yourself.” —The Globe and Mail“Pitch-...

Bill Bryson’s bestselling books include A Walk in the Woods, Neither Here Nor There, In a Sunburned Country, Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, the latter of which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize. Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.From the Hardcover edition.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:288 pages, 8 × 5.17 × 0.73 inPublished:September 25, 2007Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385661622

ISBN - 13:9780385661621

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Nostalgic Fun Bill Bryson was born in 1951, at the beginning of what he describes as a wonderful decade. With a combination of subtle and outrageous humour and a deep fondness, he reminisces about his family, and the other influences on his life. Unfortunately the book starts to follow a pattern after a while and I found myself getting bored, but it was great while the fun lasted.
Date published: 2008-09-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from To Know Him Is To Love Him. Bill Bryson has always left a large part of himself in his travel books because they are not so much about a place but him in that place. And most of his books I haven't actually read but listened to the audio books - the best of them narrated by Mr. Bryson himself. They are wonderful and funny and personable. So I already felt like I knew him. After his memoir, that has only increased. It was poignant and funny and witty and just plain laugh out loud. I am not a contemporary of Bryson age-wise but he painted a vivid picture of the 50s and middle America. I think this may be my favourite book of his now - and that is saying a lot.
Date published: 2008-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nostalgia with a purpose Although most people think their childhood years were better than the present, I think Bill Bryson has a point. Our amalgamated and uniform culture may not be quite the advance it is held out to be. The viewpoint is served up with his usual wit. This book is literally laugh out loud funny. Even if you are not a contempory of Bill Bryson (and I am) you will enjoy the book.
Date published: 2008-02-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderfully hilarious romp through the 50's! If you were a child of the 50's you must read this book. Bryson's sharp wit and satirical insight can be both "laugh out loud" or " Oh my God!". I felt like I was 7 all over again. My recollections of the cars, the hairstyles, the food, the TV programs, and the Adults In My Life, were sharpened by his wonderful descriptions and made me long for a simpler time -until of course, he gets to the part about the Cold War - were I too, felt safe and indestructable. The Thunderbolt Kid lives on in all of us Baby Boomers to some degree! Thanks Bill, for a rollicking good look back.
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Return to the Past! I was dubious at first if a personal memoir by one of the best scribes around could capture the magic of his reknowned travelogues. Guess what? The Thunderbolt Kid's bio is a raucous and insightful return to the good old days of mid-West Americana which was a major factor in shaping Bill Bryson's views of the world. Guaranteed that you will read this book in one sitting and wish that you grew in a different time and different place where things were so much simpler but oh so weirder. Great stuff!
Date published: 2007-11-16

Extra Content

Read from the Book

EXCERPTBurns UnitThe only downside of my mother’s working was that it put a little pressure on her with regard to running the home and particularly with regard to dinner, which frankly was not her strong suit anyway. My mother always ran late and was dangerously forgetful into the bargain. You soon learned to stand aside about ten to six every evening, for it was then that she would fly in the back door, throw something in the oven, and disappear into some other quarter of the house to embark on the thousand other household tasks that greeted her each evening. In consequence she nearly always forgot about dinner until a point slightly beyond way too late. As a rule you knew it was time to eat when you could hear baked potatoes exploding in the oven. We didn’t call it the kitchen in our house. We called it the Burns Unit. “It’s a bit burned,” my mother would say apologetically at every meal, presenting you with a piece of meat that looked like something — a much-loved pet perhaps — salvaged from a tragic house fire. “But I think I scraped off most of the burned part,” she would add, overlooking that this included every bit of it that had once been flesh. Happily, all this suited my father. His palate only responded to two tastes — burnt and ice cream — so everything suited him so long as it was sufficiently dark and not too startlingly flavorful. Theirs truly was a marriage made in heaven for no one could burn food like my mother or eat it like my dad. As part of her job, my mother bought stacks of housekeeping magazines — House Beautiful, House and Garden, Better Homes and Gardens — and I read these with a curious avidity, partly because they were always lying around and in our house all idle moments were spent reading something, and partly because they depicted lives so absorbingly at variance with our own. The housewives in my mother’s magazines were so collected, so organized, so calmly on top of things, and their food was perfect — their lives were perfect. They dressed up to take their food out of the oven! There were no black circles on the ceiling above their stoves, no mutating goo climbing over the sides of their forgotten saucepans. Children didn’t have to be ordered to stand back every time they opened their oven doors. And their foods — baked Alaska, lobster Newburg, chicken cacciatore — why, these were dishes we didn’t even dream of, much less encounter, in Iowa. Like most people in Iowa in the 1950s, we were more cautious eaters in our house.* On the rare occasions when we were presented with food with which we were not comfortable or familiar — on planes or trains or when invited to a meal cooked by someone who was not herself from Iowa — we tended to tilt it up carefully with a knife and examine it from every angle as if it determining whether it might need to be defused. Once on a trip to San Francisco my father was taken by friends to a Chinese restaurant and he described it to us afterwards in the somber tones of someone recounting a near-death experience. “And they eat it with sticks, you know,” he added knowledgeably.“Goodness!” said my mother.“I would rather have gas gangrene than go through that again,” my father added grimly.In our house we didn’t eat: • pasta, rice, cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, mayonnaise, onions, corned beef, pastrami, salami, or foreign food of any type, except French toast; • bread that wasn’t white and at least 65 percent air; • spices other than salt, pepper and maple syrup; • fish that was any shape other than rectangular and not coated in bright orange breadcrumbs, and then only on Fridays and only when my mother remembered it was Friday, which in fact was not often; • seafood of any type but especially seafood that looked like large insects; • soups not blessed by Campbell’s and only a very few of those; • anything with dubious regional names like “pone,” or “gumbo” or foods that had at any time been an esteemed staple of slaves or peasants. All other foods of all types — curries, enchiladas, tofu, bagels, sushi, couscous, yogurt, kale, rocket, Parma ham, any cheese that was not a vivid bright yellow and shiny enough to see your reflection in — had either not yet been invented or was yet unknown to us. We really were radiantly unsophisticated. I remember being surprised to learn at quite an advanced age that a shrimp cocktail was not, as I had always imagined, a pre-dinner alcoholic drink with a shrimp in it. All our meals consisted of leftovers. My mother had a seemingly inexhaustible supply of foods that had already been to the table, sometimes many times. Apart from a few perishable dairy products, everything in the fridge was older than I was, sometimes by many years. (Her oldest food possession of all, it more or less goes without saying, was a fruitcake that was kept in a metal tin and dated from the colonial period.) I can only assume that my mother did all of her cooking in the 1940s so that she could spend the rest of her life surprising herself with what she could find under cover at the back of the fridge. I never knew her to reject a food. The rule of thumb seemed to be that if you opened the lid and the stuff inside didn’t make you actually recoil and take at least one staggered step backwards, it was deemed OK to eat. Both of my parents had grown up in the Great Depression and neither of them ever threw anything away if they could possibly avoid it. My mother routinely washed and dried paper plates, and smoothed out for reuse spare aluminum foil. If you left a pea on your plate, it became part of future meal. All our sugar came in little packets spirited out of restaurants in deep coat pockets, as did our jams, jellies, crackers (oyster and saltine), tartar sauces, some of our ketchup and butter, all of our napkins, and a very occasional ashtray; anything that came with a restaurant table really. One of the happiest moments in my parents’ life was when maple syrup started to be served in small disposable packets and they could add those to the household hoard. *In fact like most other people in America. It is perhaps worth noting that the leading American food writer of the age, Duncan Hines, author of the hugely successful Adventures in Eating, declared with pride that he never ate food with French names if he could possibly help it. Hines’s other boast was that he did not venture out of America until he was seventy years old, when he made a trip to Europe. He disliked nearly everything he found there, especially the food.From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

“Outlandishly and improbably entertaining. . . . An evocation of childhood that’s movingly true, no exaggeration necessary.” —The New York Times“An entertaining romp of a book. . . . By the end of this vaudeville bill of a memoir, [Bryson] has you wishing you’d grown up in Des Moines in the 1950s yourself.” —The Globe and Mail“Pitch-perfect, nostalgic, and tenderly ironic. . . . Wise. Somewhat innocent. This is a marvelous book.” —The Boston Globe“A book about the joy of small things, about the rich and distinctive features that constitute normality, about the strange and singular ways in which everyday life is anything but quotidian. . . . Bryson is the master of the telling detail.” —Observer (UK)