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The Guns of August
Barbara W. Tuchman, Robert K. Massie
In a Sunburned Country - Bill Bryson In a Sunburned Country is a 4 Star, mostly humorous, romp through Australia. It is perhaps a little dated now, he traveled there in 1999. Still he brings to life a place most of us do not know much about. I laughed a lot; he has a self-deprecating and subtle way of expressing himself. You will get to know the various states of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia in some detail. You get an abbreviated (and frankly unfair) exposure to Queensland and the North Territory. Sadly, you get nothing on Tasmania, a gaping hole in his travels, IMHO.

At times, Bryson paints incredible word pictures of the beauty of forests populated by unique creatures and plants. And then he gets to the terrible emptiness that separates the east from west, north from south. Through many miles, he brings to life the beauty, desolation and character of the bush. He will entertain you with stories of Australia’s explorers, some tragic and some just plain funny. It is a hardy group that has settled there. When he stops trying so hard to be funny, he can be poetic. The descriptions of the Alpine Nat’l Park near Melbourne and the Southwest forest area near Perth are good examples. The cheerfulness and welcoming manner of Australians shines through clearly. I want to visit Australia now! But, damn, it is far away and darn big when you get there. And, by the way, filled with creatures like snakes, insects, fish, crocs, lizards, etc that want to kill you or, at least, make your day very uncomfortable.

The book is not all goodness and laugh-out-loud funny. Australia and the Australians get 5 Stars but Bryson only gets 3 Stars. He can be very snarky and superficial. His discourse on the Aborigines was frankly condescending and ill-informed. He doesn’t appear to have made an effort to go meet Aborigines but he has plenty of judgments and opinions on the issue. If he was going to cover this social concern, he needed to devote some real time to it, not just passing shots. As mentioned, he left out Tasmania, which I really want to know about. His account may start to grate on an Australian or someone familiar with the country as he exaggerates and makes fun of some quirks. Hearing Bryson on Aussie sports, cricket for example, is like hearing these Brit talking heads showing up on our financial TV networks expound on US politics, i.e., clueless.

In the end, he shares a very appealing and attractive country and culture with us. An enjoyable read.