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The great indoors

In At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Rs 950, Doubleday), the scholarly gypsy Bill Bryson burrows in this time, moving from one home to another. Written in his usual middle-of-the-road manner that is a delight for, well, the middle-of-the-road curious reader, the author of A Short History of Nearly Everything shrinks the space this time and brings us not only the various genres of homes there were in the West but also the goings-on outside that feeds this mutating 'phenomenon', the home, down the ages.

books Updated: Jul 17, 2010 00:30 IST

In At Home: A Short History of Private Life (Rs 950, Doubleday), the scholarly gypsy Bill Bryson burrows in this time, moving from one home to another. Written in his usual middle-of-the-road manner that is a delight for, well, the middle-of-the-road curious reader, the author of A Short History of Nearly Everything shrinks the space this time and brings us not only the various genres of homes there were in the West but also the goings-on outside that feeds this mutating 'phenomenon', the home, down the ages.

We get an insightful guided tour through homes turning brighter from candlelight to oil light ("the best light of all came from whale oil") to gaslight to electricity, to a history of hygiene. At the heart of the home — coming tellingly just before the chapter on the bathroom and after the one on stairs — Bryson takes us into the bedroom, the tumultuous place of sex, death, rest and sleep.

Readers here will get a detailed and entertaining look — at least if picking up bundles of information is your entertainment — at the western household. Maybe someone from this side of home, with time on his hand and a decent enough commissioning editor, can do the same thing, a work of approachable Diet Scholarship on the history of Indian households and their ancillary cultural, commercial and aesthetic spin-offs over time.

For one, instead of a biography of the scullery, we'd get to know the evolution of the prayer room. For another, even if Bryson doesn't have it in his book, wouldn't you like to know the lineage of your 'servants' quarters'?