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Two Thumbs Up For the Thunderbolt Kid

I know I am late to the party on this one, but last night I finished The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir, Bill Bryson's book on growing up in America in the 1950's and figured I'd still write it up. Given that I probably wouldn't bother writing up a book I didn't like (or, finish such a book for that matter), obviously I give this one a thumbs up.

I've read a few of Bryson's books in the past (A Short History of Nearly Everything, Neither Here Nor There, etc.) and always enjoyed them, but for some reason I liked the Thunderbolt Kid more. I think one of the reasons is that the era I grew up in, the 1970's, was not that far removed temporally from the 1950s. So many of the now quaint and quirky cultural references in the book brought back pretty vivid memories for me.

Case in point: TV dinners. I hadn't forgotten about them altogether, but I had forgotten about this nuance: the only consistency among the various brands and types and flavors was the inconsistent temperature once cooked. Somehow the dessert scalded your mouth, while at the same time the mashed potatoes remained frozen. Reading Bryson's description immediately put me back in my family's den, sitting next to my brother, both of us behind a TV tray, watching Love Boat while sawing away on semi-frozen meatloaf in a metallic dish. Good times indeed.

To add to that, the town where Bryson grew up - Des Moines, Iowa - was a relatively small Midwestern city that, based on his description, reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh, PA, the relatively small Midwestern city that where I grew up. So much of the life he describes in the book matched my own experiences pretty closely.

Fear not though, the book is not just a walk down memory lane. In addition to the personal memories, he also provides a very readable historical look back to this era in American history. Good descriptions of everything from the space race, McCarthyism and Jim Crowe to baseball, movies, cars and comic books, give you both macro and micro sense of what life in 1950's America was like. Its always humorous for me to be reminded that in many cases, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So if you want to learn a few things, perhaps walk down memory lane and have a few laughs, Marksonland recommends the Thunderbolt Kid.


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