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The Life & Times of The Thunderbolt Kid

Updated: Dec 27, 2022

Bill Bryson, the critically acclaimed American writer, recounts life growing up in 1950s America through his characteristic narrative fashion. From informative insights on the Baby Boom era in the US to wild recounts of childhood experiences, this book paints a picture of 1950s life in white middle-class America for those who weren’t around to witness it.

When I started reading this book, I honestly didn’t think there’d be much to it. While Bill Bryson’s writing was as charming and witty as ever, the book seemed irrelevant to the 20th century. History’s great and all, but how interesting can a book about 1950s American suburbia really be? As I trudged through the book, I was pleasantly surprised to find it engaging and rather comedic.

The book depicts Bryson’s childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, sometimes through his alter ego, the Thunderbolt Kid. The reader is taken along the trials and tribulations of young Bill as he battles bullies and goes on various wild escapades. What I really liked about this book is that it describes aspects of a 1950s American childhood informatively and in detail. Through this book, I learned about the rise of TV dinners, Lincoln Logs and Playboy magazines. This book is hugely educational regarding the Baby Boom era of the 1950s and what this time entailed for the average American lifestyle. Furthermore, Bryson cleverly avoids turning this book into a boring history textbook by weaving in rather bizarre personal anecdotes throughout the story.

Reading the book, I learned about his mother’s penchant for collecting jars and Bill’s tendency to pee in them. I also read about his uncle’s inability to keep all the food in his mouth at the dinner table and his dad’s job as a sports journalist. Bryson manages to prevent this book from getting dreary or repetitive in any way by writing in a humorous manner that encourages you to keep reading. Despite this, something of the book that I disliked was that it went into certain aspects of Bryson’s childhood with far more detail than necessary. For example, Bryson writes about developing certain urges in puberty and how he and his friends went about handling them. As a teenage girl, I found these chapters to be gross and off-putting, but this may not be the case for everyone.

If you’re someone who is interested in the Baby Boom era, this book is perfect for you as a first-hand account of someone who lived right through it. There’s some fantastical elements to it, so if you’re not a fan of any of that, steer clear. All in all, though, it’s a quirky and witty autobiography that you’ll likely enjoy.

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