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Posts tagged ‘Bill Bryson’

Cristofor Columb

Columbus’s real achievement was managing to cross the ocean successfully in both directions. Though an accomplished enough mariner, he was not terribly good at a great deal else, especially geography, the skill that would seem most vital in an explorer. It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence. He spent large parts of eight years bouncing around Caribbean islands and coastal South America convinced that he was in the heart of the Orient and that Japan and China were at the edge of every sunset. He never worked out that Cuba is an island and never once set foot on, or even suspected the existence of, the land mass to the north that everyone thinks he discovered: the United States. He filled his holds with valueless iron pyrite thinking it was gold and with what he confidently believed to be cinnamon and pepper. The first was actually a worthless tree bark and the second were not true peppers but chilli peppers – excellent when you have grasped the general idea of them, but a little eye-wateringly astonishing on first hearty chomp.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

Dacă un cartof poate produce vitamina C

Vitamins are curious things. It is odd, to begin with, that we cannot produce them ourselves when we are so very dependent on them for our well-being. If a potato can produce Vitamin C, why can’t we? Within the animal kingdom only humans and guinea pigs are unable to synthesize Vitamin C in their own bodies.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

Despre cuțitul pentru pește

At one point, a single manufacturer offered no fewer than 146 different types of flatware for the table. Curiously, one of the few survivors from this culinary onslaught is one that is most difficult to understand: the fish knife. No one has ever identified a single advantage conferred by its odd scalloped shape or worked out the original thinking behind it. There isn’t a single kind of fish that it cuts better or bones more delicately than a conventional knife does.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

Despre toalete

Perhaps no word in English has undergone more transformations in its lifetime than ‘toilet’. Originally, in about 1540, it was a kind of cloth, a diminutive form of ‘toile’, a word still used to describe a type of linen. Then it became a cloth for use on dressing tables. Then it became the items on the dressing table (whence ‘toiletries’). Then it became the dressing table itself, then the act of dressing, then the act of receiving visitors while dressing, then the dressing room itself, then any kind of private room near a bedroom, then a room used lavatorially, and finally the lavatory itself.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010


The British had always loved sugar, so much so that when they first got access to it, about the time of Henry VIII, they put it on almost everything – on eggs, meat, and into their wine. They scooped it on to potatoes, sprinkled it over greens, ate it straight off the spoon if they could afford to. Even though sugar was very expensive, people consumed it till their teeth turned black, and if their teeth didn’t turn black naturally they blackened them artificially to show how wealthy and marvellously self-indulgent they were.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

Dressing impractically

Dressing impractically is a way of showing that one doesn’t have to do physical work. Throughout history, and across many cultures, this has generally been far more important than comfort.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

Valoarea unui pat

For much of history a bed was, for most homeowners, the most valuable thing they owned. In William Shakespeare’s day, for instance, a decent canopied bed cost £5, half the annual salary of a typical schoolmaster. Because they were such treasured items, the best bed was often kept downstairs, sometimes in the living room, where it could be better shown off to visitors or seen through an open window by passers-by. Generally, such beds were notionally reserved for really important visitors, but in practice were hardly used, a fact that adds some perspective to the famous clause in Shakespeare’s will in which he left his second-best bed to his wife, Anne. This has often been construed as an insult, when in fact the second-best bed was almost certainly the marital one and therefore the one with the most tender associations.

Bill Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010

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