An American Abroad: A Short History of Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is an English national treasure.

He is the world’s number one anglophile, and Prince Charles has said “There can be no-one who more deserves the title of ‘honorary Englishman’ than Bill Bryson.”

But Bryson’s fascinating life story starts far away from Britain, in Des Moines, the capital of the flat-western state of Iowa.

He spent his childhood here creating super hero characters and a local newspaper, the ‘Neighbourhood News’, which he typed out individually for each reader.

He was only seven years old at the time.

But for all his juvenile ventures, Bill never took to school, believing teachers kept secret the good stuff and made learning soberly unfathomable.

He was less enchanted with Iowa than his parents, and when he finished high school, which he barely attended, he embarked on an adventure on the continent.

After falling for the charm and history of Europe, Bryson settled in Britain where his first job was at a psychiatric institution. It is here that he met his wife Cynthia, a nurse.

After nipping back to America to finish his bachelor’s degree, which took some seven years, the Brysons moved back to England and Bill worked for ‘The Times’ and ‘The Independent’.

But after developing an immense pleasure in writing these articles, he turned his hands to books.

Following the death of his father, he travelled to 38 southern states and wrote ‘The Lost Continent –Travels in Small-town America’ about his disillusionment with the USA.

His love for all things British shone through ‘Notes From a Small Island’, and the works that followed on the etymology of the English language.

He is the author of ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, (widely praised for bringing science to the masses), ‘Shakespeare: The World as a Stage’, and ‘Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail’, which was recently made into a film starring Robert Redford.

Despite his American roots, Bill Bryson is the first non-Briton to be awarded Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society, he is an English Heritage Commissioner and has served as Chancellor of Durham University, England’s third oldest university.

Bryson now resides in a nineteenth century rectory in Norfolk after living in Yorkshire for many years.