Book Reviews

Book Review: The Lost Continent

The Lost Continent is full of tales from small town America, the heart of America that doens’t get much attention, especially from travel writers! However, Bill Bryson takes it upon himself to share stories from America’s little towns. 

What The Lost Continent is about:

Book Cover of The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

While an American native (Des Moines, Iowa to be exact), Bryon moved to England and established a life for himself there. He returns to undertake the cross country road trip many can only dream of.

It begins in his home town where he sets off to drive across America’s small towns. He is immediately critical of his home town, as many are, but his attitude reminds me of the stereotypical “can’t stand this deadbeat town” pop-punk attitude – of course, Bryson is certainly far from the Warped Tour going youths in “Defend Pop Punk” vests but I hope you get what I mean.

What I thought of The Lost Continent:

This book has mixed reviews, some sing it’s praises while others critique Bryson for being too negative and hypocritical. I’ll admit that I preferred his other works such as A Walk in the Woods and Notes From a Big Country.

Always satirical, this book maintains his sense of humour. Perhaps some are too easily insulted, but he does push it at times and his jokes get old. He compares his journey to the ones his family undertook as a child, and while the anecdotes were initially humours there is only so much one can take. He often seems to skim though towns and passes judgment on them without even stepping out of his car. Bryson isn’t a typical travel writer and readers should not expect actual guides from him, but I think we deserve more history and description. I think many places he critiques needed more time to be explored. Furthermore, when travelling it is wise to understand that locals and new places will not hold the same values as home – this doesn’t mean you or them are better than the other. As a travel writer, I thought he would have established that by now and even been intrigued by the differences. Sure, America is all one country but the individual states are vastly different from one another.

Moments such as when he visited the Grand Canyon and his awe was almost tangible were certainly highlights, or his description of Mount Rushmore which provided a brief history of it and his own feelings. I got a few chuckles out of it, but nothing that actually made me laugh out loud as his jokes felt forced and over-used. His disdain at the loss of American small towns and individuality to shopping centers and fast-food restaurants is something he has reiterated in both this and Notes From a Big Country time and time again. He didn’t approve of big cities like New York, or the small ones. He penned people as hicks, rednecks, certainly enjoyed poking fun of people overweight when he doesn’t seem to be Mr Fitness himself.

I certainly expected more from Bryson with this and feel bad for being hard on him. He is an author I normally enjoy to read so while I would recommend him as an author to look at, this book is not the one to start with. I didn’t absolutely hate it or feel compelled to give up before finishing it but I wasn’t hooked or tremendously impressed either. It is a readable novel, but I wouldn’t call it his best.

If you like this, you’d also like A Short History of Nearly Everything, and A Walk in the Woods.

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