We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Happily, we were indestructible. We didn’t need seat belts, airbags, smoke detectors, bottled water or the Heimlich manoeuvre. 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 being reminding 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.”

- Bill Bryson, The Live and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, page 106.

I adore this book.

17 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • A nice reductio on the nanny state!

  • RAB

    Does Bryson shit in the woods?

    Gently funny man…

    He obviously had the same childhood I had.

  • Mike Gillespie

    Bill Bryson is a terrifically engaging writer on a wide variety of subjects, with a fine command of the english language, and he can write paragraphs like that one that would make you think he’s a Burkean conservative.

    And yet…

    Every single one of his books (and I admit to not having read them all) contains at least one gratuitous shot at Maggie Thatcher and/or Ronald Reagan. They’re out of context, mean and childish, and they seriously reduce my enjoyment of his otherwise fine work.

  • Sam Duncan

    So true, Mike.

    But everybody should read A Short History of Nearly Everything. (Now that I think of it, in fact, I’m not sure I recall any cheap shots in it.) Literally everybody. With the possible exception of scientists who already know all that stuff.

  • ragingnick

    tto rue Mike. Bill Bryson is an anti-American leftist

  • ragingnick

    oops typo

  • Steven Groeneveld

    I think Bill Bryson has been wrestling a long time with the obvious dichotomy of his positions and yet never comes to the obvious conclusion that we all see clearly. Religious tenets like socialism (it’s as much a religion as mohammedanism and global warming ) tend not to readily let the rational brain override their obvioiusly flawed axioms. Yes he is a leftist and in one of his books he remarks on how he admires Sweden for its comprehensive socialism but complains that everything is so expensive there.

  • jk

    That quote is funny, true, and well written, but I have to throw out a caveat. While we have certainly gone too far with nannyization and the attempted removal of all dangers and consequences, I like to remind people that it also represents a very important economic realization of the value of human life. Because my siblings and I bounded across the country — untethered — in the back of a station wagon going 80MPH on bias-ply tires, does not mean it is a good idea.

    Life is more valuable today — in dollars, certainly. I would not trade my childhood era, but I also won’t be suggesting it to my friends who are parents. I wish I could find a book I had in my youth. It had home science projects for kids like burning a big metal spoonful of glycerin, coal dust explosions in a coffee can, and — my personal fave — buying an old neon sign transformer and attaching bare wires to it to make a “Jacob’s Ladder” spark generator. I think it would be a little tough to get that book past the publishers’ lawyers today.

    Something lost, yet something gained by those who value humanity.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Every single one of his books (and I admit to not having read them all) contains at least one gratuitous shot at Maggie Thatcher and/or Ronald Reagan. They’re out of context, mean and childish, and they seriously reduce my enjoyment of his otherwise fine work.

    The book I linked to does not have such references to these leaders, thanks goodness. There is a lot about McCarthy (well, it was about the 1950s, after all), the Bomb, Sputnik, the Cold War, and so on, but fairly handled, I thought. Bryson is what I’d call a writer for the Volvo-driving, liberal middle classes in Britain and elsewhere who want to read an engaging, funny account of their lands with not too many hard questions asked. I tend to overlook the irritations as there is so much genuine humour and insight in the books.

    His description of growing up in a rural community is dead accurate: I can relate to it myself.

    JK: you have a point but I think also that what Bryson was noting was how safety-first we have all become, and to a tiresome extent. Maybe when the GIs returned home, putting child-proof caps on medicine bottles and driving at only 55mph was not their priority. Having kids and enjoying material wealth and fun most certainly was.

  • comatus

    Call me a statist if you will, but I thought that polio vaccine was a damned good thing. Perhaps I don’t have exactly the same memories of the Fifties that the author does.

  • manuel II paleologos

    I can forgive him the jibes about Reagan and Thatcher for his pleasingly honest appraisal of “climate change” in A Brief History…

    And indeed for his superlative summary of US history, language and culture in Made In America, which remains his best work.

    The thing I particularly love about him is how utterly half-baked his adventures are. He gets an idea for a book, he gets less than half way through it before giving up and filling the rest of it with, well, filler (Notes From A Small Island, A Walk In The Woods, and the one about driving round the US). A role model for well-intentioned lazy people everywhere.

  • Rob

    manuel II paleologos

    “The thing I particularly love about him is how utterly half-baked his adventures are. He gets an idea for a book, he gets less than half way through it before giving up and filling the rest of it with, well, filler …”

    manuel – For me, what you have described is one of the most disappointing aspects of his writing. His books all seem to start well, with humour and pace and then, somewhere about 2/3rds of the way through, they run out of steam and leave me struggling to finish them.

  • manuel II paleologos

    Yes, I suppose I was being a bit kind on him there. I just wasn’t that bothered about finding out what the rest of the Appalachian Trail was like either (lots more trees and hills, I would guess).

    I find it surprising he gets away with this. His editor must find him really infuriating. Funny really; his style is a bit too ponderous for journalism, but he doesn’t really have the tenacity for longer stuff, except for broad brush histories. Yet he’s phenomenally popular. Must be doing something right.

  • jerry

    JK, Popular Mechanics put out several books with ‘projects’ for boys in the 40′s and 50′s I believe.
    None are any longer in print and I havea friend who has one ( would LOVE to be able to copy it !! ) and some of the projects would scare the crap out of most parents today.
    carbon arc light in a coffee can
    hang glider
    jacobs ladder ( be careful there, the voltages are staggering and they CAN hurt you – burns primarily )

    And, nope, you would NEVER get these kinds of books past the nannies.

    Ah, for some of the fun we had ( and utterly astonished that I still have all my digits !!! )

  • Paul Marks

    Even by the end of the quote given, Mr Byson is changing.

    We go from we knew that poison was poison and that gasoline burns, to coffee kept us purring productively.

    In short we thought that red meat and coffee were good for us – but really they were doing us harm in the long run (knowledge kept from us by people who wanted us to carry on “productively”, for a while, for their evil corporations – oh if only the government would save us).

    Being a “cultural conservative” is not enough – if you have been taught a lot of leftist principles (at college and so on) and never totally rejected them.

  • Paul, you may have a (very subtle) point there:-)

  • I’ve been a fan of Bryson’s books for awhile and I’ve noticed that many of his books give the nannies a gentle ribbing.

    In particular, Bryson mentioned in Notes from a Big Country how he disliked the smoking bans in the U.S. This was written in the mid- 90′s. He wrote how he much prefered the situation in Britain where he could smoke his pipe in peace and not be bothered.

    He moved back to Britain around 2003.

    I’ve always wondered how he felt about the smoking ban and how he can no longer have a quiet smoke in a convival pub anymore.

    As far as his Leftism, I think that deep down, Bryson is a Libertarian, but his education trained him that you have to be a Leftist to be considered educated.