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Publisher's Summary

After nearly two decades in Britain, Bill Bryson took the decision to move back to the States for a while but before leaving his much-loved home in North Yorkshire, Bryson insisted on taking one last trip around Britain. His aim was to take stock of the nation's public face and private parts (as it were), and to analyse what precisely it was he loved so much about a country that had produced Marmite, a military hero whose dying wish was to be kissed by a fellow named Hardy, place names like Farleigh Wallop and Shellow Bowells, people who said 'Mustn't grumble', and Gardeners' Question Time.

©2004 Bill Bryson (P)2004 Random House Audiobooks

What listeners say about Notes from a Small Island

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Takes me Back

Having lived in Australia for the past 30 years this wonderful book brought many dim memories of the Britain of my youth flooding back. Bill expresses my feelings for Britishness in ways that I cannot, things that seem inconsequential but add up to a uniqueness of character so easily overlooked or in my case forgotten. My only grumble is the music which the producers must have thought a clever idea. It isn’t and just grated.

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entertaining, informative and wonderful

I loved this book, and more especially since it is narrated by Mr Bryson himself. He is fun and funny. he is able to encapsulate ideas and feelings that most of us have but have never been able to put into words. I was disappointed to get to the end.

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Short and charming

Would you consider the audio edition of Notes from a Small Island to be better than the print version?

About the same -- though Bill Bryson's reading is quite lovely.

Would you be willing to try another book from Bill Bryson? Why or why not?

Yes, as he is prone to take notice of all sorts of interesting details.

What does Bill Bryson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

The almost-deadpan delivery -- which is oddly enjoyable.

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  • Andre
  • 15-02-2016

pleasantville

A languid, amiable account of BB's travels to the UK, which at times had me chortling, but I enjoyed most of his other books more.

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  • Rachel
  • 03-08-2015

Bryson does it again!

Bryson turns one man's travels through England to a masterclass in intelligent commentary, exquisitely crafted story, and humorous tales. Would definitely recommend to all.

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  • udidit
  • 07-10-2012

Disappointing !

I was a fan of Bill Bryson until this book, which I was really looking forward to listening to.
We all have bad days and he, at least, admits to having several whilst journeying through Britain. Unfortunately he comes over as being or trying to be funny and cynical at the same time and does not pull it off 99% of the time, making the listener yawn and hope that the weather and story will improve, but sadly for him at least, neither seem to and the reader/listener is left wishing the agony would stop! Its basically very boring.
I was so glad that he decided later in his life to return to his native country because having personally lived in both countries myself, I truly believe that the "chip" he carried around on his shoulder whilst trying to write this book would have lightened as soon as he was amongst his own again in Iowa and I mean this kindly having also lived in Iowa!
I really enjoyed other books that he has written and will try to lighten up regarding this one but to date have not changed my initial reaction.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Jim Gibson
  • 25-05-2019

Edited version

This is a very short version of the great book. Still enjoyable but the 10 hour version is the whole book. Not worth a whole credit.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Chris
  • 10-02-2013

Love The Narration

I have listen to Bill Bryson books narrated by BIll himself, and by William Roberts (The Lost Continent). Having originally listened to the Roberts narration, I thought I liked it, however, I then moved on to this book narrated by Bill himself. The difference is amazing. Roberts is a more polished audiobook reader, but he also makes the book sound somehow detached from what is going on. Bill, although more gentle in tone, is simply delightful when he comes across a particularly fond memory, and it feels as though you can hear him smile as he reads it back to himself, forgetting he is even being recorded.



This quirk in the reading is so endearing that I now cannot go back and listen to William Roberts who obviously cannot relate to the material in the same way. These books are after all a personal tale of adventure and experiences.



I do not think there is anything wrong with the Roberts narration, but I can only recommend you listen to all the books narrated by him BEFORE listening to one narrated by Bill Bryson himself. Only you have heard the difference, you cannot go back. I only wish Bill had narrated all of his books on Audible.



This book itself is great, and I chuckle to myself in public often at the observations about British life going on around me. Recommended.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Michelle
  • 12-05-2019

Love this book!

Having read the book a number of times it was a delight to listen to Bill Bryson deliver this in his calm, gentle style.
One question - why has Mrs Smegma been changed to Mrs Gubbins?!

1 person found this helpful

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  • DR
  • 17-09-2016

Wonderful!

Really fantastic, this is a must listen! ... only small gripe is the bizarre music which appeared a 2 or 3 times and almost obscured the speech. Fortunately it only lasts a minute or so each time so doesn't cause a problem overall, but was an odd production choice which I can't fathom!

Don't let that put you off though, I'm really writing it for the production company to see ... I still recommend without hesitation!

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  • Letty
  • 11-09-2015

Love this book

This is such a good book which I read years ago. It's funny, quirky and gently mocks the British way of doing things.
I like Bill Brysons narration of his own books very much.

The book was great apart from very odd music suddenly drowning out much of the narration when Bill Bryson reached John O Groats. It was most peculiar and unnecessary....I didn't know where the music was coming from initially and then it swelled louder and louder until I wondered whether to turn off the book! Luckily it only lasted a few minutes but I do wonder what it was for and how it was supposed to enhance the recording.
Apart from that I thought it a good recording and would recommend.

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  • Monty
  • 19-02-2021

Hilarious but the abridged version

Simply brilliant. However a very un-briliant idea to make this an abridged version. Love Bill, but wanted the full story.

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  • Lady Lavender
  • 02-02-2021

An old friend

I read this book many years ago and instantly fell for Mr Bryson’s dry wit. Having only just discovered audio books I gave this a try and loved it! It was like visiting an old friend.
I had a massive smile on my face for most of the time. The only downside is that it’s not long enough and I felt a bit cheated that it was an abridged version.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 29-01-2021

A nice story humorously told, but not all that interesting

Firstly, I did enjoy this and particularly enjoyed listening to Bryson read it himself. It’s a humorous travelogue and presents an interesting picture of a Britain that doesn’t really exist anymore - though a place’s importance is possibly still in part designated by whether or not it has a Marks and Spencer’s. However, as a Scot and recent inhabitant of the north east of England I felt a bit aggrieved. Bryson spends the vast majority of the book in England, which I can accept considering its geographical size, but a truly amazing proportion of that in the south before eventually arriving in the north and realising its not half as bad, ugly or poor as its rumoured in the south to be. Having recently spent a year at Durham University I was waiting patiently for him to arrive in Durham and his commentary was lovely as expected (this man really loves a cathedral), but now I am left wondering what he thinks of his ugly and uninspiring namesake, Durham’s Bill Bryson Library, given his sensitivity to ugly architecture.
If you’re looking for a roundup of Britain’s best and most beautiful bits, that’s not what you’ll get. Instead he presents a detailed though accurate portrayal of Britain’s inadequate public transport and plenty of descriptions of dirty guesthouses. However, Bill Bryson clearly loves Britain for its faults and not in spite of them and that’s quite endearing.
Finally, there were a few production issues on this version to watch out for (if you’re thinking of paying for this). There’s a section of jumpy audio and one bit (if I remember correctly, in the section where he speeds through a tiny fragment of Scotland and doesn’t seem to like it much) where some background music suddenly appears, suddenly gets very loud, and then suddenly disappears, just as you’ve finished checking whether you’ve accidentally set a video running in the background of your phone or laptop.
Overall a nice story to have on in the background of lockdown pacing in your house which doesn’t actually fill you with a great desire to get out and see many of the places mentioned... but that’s both it’s merit and it’s shortcoming.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-12-2020

Wonderful observations

Bill Bryson narrating added to the novel. His dead pan delivery was perfect. All in all, well worth reading.

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  • Robin
  • 09-11-2020

Enjoyable but not his best

Enjoyable as I generally love Bill Bryson but the narration lacked dynamics and as the book is very 'wordy' it was easy to get distracted

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