"The remarkable position in which we find ourselves is that we don't actually know what we actually know." -- Bill Bryson
William McGuire "Bill" Bryson, OBE, (born December 8, 1951) is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on science. Born an American, he was a resident of North Yorkshire, UK, for most of his professional life before moving back to the US in 1995. In 2003 Bryson moved back to the UK, living in Norfolk, and was appointed Chancellor of Durham University.
"Boston's freeway system is insane. It was clearly designed by a person who had spent his childhood crashing toy trains.""I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.""I don't plan to write another science book, but I don't plan not to. I do enjoy writing histories, and taking subjects that are generally dull and trying to make them interesting.""I had always thought that once you grew up you could do anything you wanted - stay up all night or eat ice-cream straight out of the container.""I have long known that it is part of God's plan for me to spend a little time with each of the most stupid people on earth.""More than 300 million people in the world speak English and the rest, it sometimes seems, try to.""My first rule of consumerism is never to buy anything you can't make your children carry.""The whole of the global economy is based on supplying the cravings of two per cent of the world's population.""There are only three things that can kill a farmer: lightning, rolling over in a tractor, and old age.""There are things you just can't do in life. You can't beat the phone company, you can't make a waiter see you until he's ready to see you, and you can't go home again.""When you tell an Iowan a joke, you can see a kind of race going on between his brain and his expression."
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 Jane Elizabeth.
Bryson was educated at Drake University but dropped out in 1972, deciding to instead backpack around Europe for four months. He returned to Europe the following year with a high school friend, the pseudonymous Stephen Katz. Some of his experiences from this trip are relived as flashbacks in 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. He met a nurse there named Cynthia, whom he married, and they moved to the USA in 1975 so Bryson could complete his college degree. In 1977, they settled in the UK, where they remained until 1995. Living in North Yorkshire and mainly working as a journalist, Bryson eventually became chief copy 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 Kirkby Malham, North 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, Canada and Australia. During his time in the United States, Bryson decided to walk the Appalachian Trail with his friend Stephen Katz (a pseudonym), about which he wrote the book A Walk in the Woods. In 2003 the Brysons and their four children returned to the UK, and now live in 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. 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. 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", Bryson himself makes no such claim, and a list of nine 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.
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 some criticism claiming that they contained factual errors, urban myths and folk etymologies.
In 2005, Bryson was appointed Chancellor of Durham University, 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. 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, including Bournemouth University and in April 2002 the Open University.
In 2006, Frank Cownie, the mayor of Des Moines, awarded Bryson the key to the city and announced that 21 October 2006 would be known as "Bill Bryson, The Thunderbolt Kid, Day."
In November 2006, Bryson interviewed the then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair on the state of science and education.
On 13 December 2006, Bryson was awarded an honorary OBE for his contribution to literature. 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.
In May 2007, he became the President of the Campaign to Protect Rural England. CPRE - Bill Bryson set to be CPRE's new President 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.