Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson

July 30, 2010

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is a wonderful and witty memoir of Bill Bryson’s childhood journey through the 1950’s. Mr. Bryson goes back to the absurdity of the golden age of no seat-belts, no airbags, helmets, and bottled water or knee pads. An age where people still trusted the FDA and cigarettes were recommended by doctors.

  • 270 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739482939


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The “Thuderbolt Kid” is Bryson’s alter ego, which adds some humor the memoir but no real substance – but it’s a great title, isn’t it? 

What gives this book its unique voice is that the memoir is told through the eyes of Mr. Bryson as if he went back in time to his childhood in Des Moines, IA but retained his talent for writing and life experience – yet writing from the perspective of a child with a wink and a nod towards the appreciative audience. The anecdotes are told through outlandish exaggerations which are so outlandish and unbelievable they become hilarious – like Mrs. Vandermeister who was “700 years old, possibly 800“.

The book is polished, entertaining and a well written. The stories are nostalgic but not overly sentimental and contain wry wit laden with sharp observations. The characters in this book are refreshing as they are seen from a childish viewpoint – but observed by an adult. Bryson does an excellent job to of balancing the simple optimism of the 1950’s against the social upheaval which were tearing society apart at the time.

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Zohar — Man of la Book
Dis­claimer: I borrowed this book from my sister.
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  • Gerbera Daisy Mom August 2, 2010 at 8:59 am

    Thanks for the review…I've had this on my goodreads list for awhile.

  • Red August 2, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Have you read any of Bryson's other works? I liked that this book was part memoir and part a general description of American life in the 1950s.

  • BookQuoter August 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm

    This sounds like it is very well written. I will have to add this to the occasional memoir that I read.

  • Mel August 6, 2010 at 5:10 am

    I am a fan of Bill Bryson but have not read this one. It is many years since I have read one of his books, and I have read maybe six of them over the years. My two favourites are Notes From a Small Island and A Walk in the Woods. He is so clever, but with such an accessible sytle. And I can never forget being on a bus years ago, laughing uncontrallably while reading A Walk in the Woods, and then looking around sheepishly to see if anyone was looking at me, the crazy laughing lady.Thank you very much for sharing your review on The Life and Time of the Thunderbolt Kid. I think you capture what is unique and so genuinely entertaining about his books. So many of my bookish friends have not read Bill Bryson and it is such a shame.

  • Bibliophile By the S August 7, 2010 at 8:18 am

    I adored the audio version of this book. so very well done.

  • Julia Writer August 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I written and reviewed some of Bryson's other work but I've never heard of this one. It sounds like a good read, I'll be looking out for it 🙂

  • Cori March 11, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    I read this one a couple years ago and really loved it. It made me nostalgic for a time I never lived through!

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