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American author, prolific producer of humorous travel stories.

Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1951, Bryson travelled to Europe in 1972 and returned with his friend Stephen Katz, an experience he later wrote about in Neither Here Nor There:

I went up to six or eight places and studied the menus by the door but they were all full of foods with ominous Germanic names -- Schweinensnout mit Spittle und Grit, Ramsintestines und Oder Grosser Stuff, that sort of thing. I expect that if ordered they would turn out to be reasonably digestible, and possibly even delicious, but I can never get over this nagging fear that I will order at random and the waiter will turn up with a steaming plate of tripe and eyeballs. Once in Bavaria Katz and I recklessly ordered Kalbsbrann from an indecipherable menu and a minute later the proprietor appeared at our table, looking hesitant and embarrassed, wringing his hands on a slaughterhouse apron.

"Excuse me so much gentlemens," he said, "but are you knowing what Kalbsbrann is?"

We looked at each other and allowed that we did not.

"It is, how you say, what ze little cow thinks wiz," he said.

Katz swooned. I thanked the man profusely for his thoughtfulness in drawing this to our attention, though I dare say it was a self-interested desire not to have two young Americans projectile-vomiting across his dining-room that brought him to our table ... it takes a special kind of vigilance to make your way across a continent on which people voluntarily ingest tongues, kidneys, horsemeat, frogs' legs, intestines, sausages made of congealed blood, and the brains of little cows.

In 1977, apparently having overcome his fear of European cuisine, Bryson settled in North Yorkshire, England and lived there for many years with his English wife and their four children. In 1997 he returned to the United States from where he continues his writing. His books regularly feature in the best-sellers list in the UK, and his unique blend of travel writing and humour seems to be unsurpassed.


I've had trouble finding his full biographical information, but gather that he moved to the UK just after college (to escape the Vietnam draft, perhaps?), worked as a proofreader and then as a journalist for newspapers there, and returned — to Hartford, Connecticut — in 1997.

Bryson is worth reading as a serious writer and stylist as well as a humorist. A Walk in the Woods and Mother Tongue especially are informative and well-written practical literature, humor aside. There are hysterical bits in all his writing, but also many earnest and not at all happy passages; he isn't straining for one-liners. Like any good journalist, his commitment is to connect readers to the subject; his superpower is to do so with enough honesty to point out humor when it's there.

In 2002, Broadway Books printed a revised edition (hardcover, 224 pages, ISBN 0767903854) of his proofreading handbook as Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words. It's friendly and reasonably comprehensive, but seems to be selling more on name recognition (and the "gee, isn't English lovably crazy?" meme) than as serious competition to Kingsley Amis' The King's English or Fowler's.

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