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Bill Bryson | Biography


Bill Bryson is a prolific nonfiction author who has written over 20 books, all based on his personal experiences. Best known for his travel writing, A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) is a general history of science and represents an expansion of his repertoire.

Bryson was born on December 8, 1951, in Des Moines, Iowa. He tells the story of his childhood in his memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (2006). The title of the book refers to the alter ego, "Thunderbolt Kid," that he adopted as a child. His parents, William and Mary Bryson, were both writers, and numerous bookshelves lined the walls of their home. Growing up, Bryson read constantly. One of his favorite reading materials was National Geographic, a magazine that would inspire his thirst for travel later in life.

He started his undergraduate education at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but dropped out in 1972 after two years in order to backpack through Europe with a friend. Bryson recorded memories from this trip in his book Neither Here nor There (1991), integrating them with his experiences from a later trip retracing the first one. During this period he began working at a psychiatric hospital in Virginia Water, Surrey, England. He met his wife Cynthia, a nurse, there. Bryson returned to the United States to finish his undergraduate degree, then moved back to England. During this period he was a journalist for two large British newspapers, the Times and the Independent, and wrote his first book, The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words (1984).

In 1995 Bryson and his family moved back to the United States. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America (1989) solidified the comedic voice he would adopt in later works. A series of travel books followed, including the popular A Walk in the Woods (1998), which described his experience walking the Appalachian Trail. The book was made into a film in 2015. In 2003 Bryson moved back to England, and in the same year, his book Notes from a Small Island (1995) was voted as the best book representing British culture for World Book Day.

Bryson has won awards throughout his career. They include the President's Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Bradford Washburn Award from the Museum of Science in Boston. In 2005 the Royal Society of Chemistry created the Bill Bryson prize for Science Communication for primary- and secondary-school students. Bryson has also received a series of honorary doctorates from a number of universities.

Bryson wrote A Short History of Nearly Everything in response to his early experience with science education. Finding science cumbersome and uninteresting as a student, Bryson decided to create an interesting and accessible book that would provide an overview of the history and contemporary status of various scientific disciplines. In 2004 Bryson received the Aventis Prize for A Short History of Nearly Everything as the best general science book.

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