Karl's Opinion Page

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

Written 10/6/98

Rating: 7 out of 10

First off, let me say that I am a big fan of Bill Bryson's writing; though he is a generally a curmudgeon, he is witty and it is frequently entertaining to indulge in "I am better than all these goobs" thoughts. His books fall into two sorts: treatises on language, such as The Mother Tongue and Made in America, and travel writing, such as Notes from a Small Island and Neither Here Nor There. Of the two, I find his language books vastly more fascinating, rating The Mother Tongue an 8 and Made in America a 9; his travel narratives are good reads, but generally in the 7 range. (Though Notes from a Small Island is excellent).

This is no exception. Admittedly, it's almost a decade out of date, now, but in general The Lost Continent is pretty uninspired. It's a Bryson book, and as such I read it cover to cover in one sitting; however, at no point did it attain the heights of humor or poignancy of some of his other works. It summarizes pretty easily, actually - a good read, and worth your time if you have extra, but don't go out looking for it, and by all means pick up other books of his instead if you have not read them already.

For Those Who Have Read It

One particularly worthwhile aspect of the book to me, though, was the conclusion that people have a certain affinity for their home. Sure, it's an obvious statement, but it's one that is worth investigating ("The unexamined life is not worth living" - Descartes), and this book certainly led me to a good contemplation of the feelings for 'home' that one has. Being a Californian, I was hoping for him, in his travels, to have nice things to say about California (he didn't, but then he never got to 'my' parts of California). At the conclusion of the book, when he is returning to Iowa and elaborating upon his realization of how good it looks to him, I (and I think perceptive readers in general) realize that their home locale evokes similar feelings. It's a 2-part evocation this book works: First, Bryson's feelings for Iowa and his home part of it in particular; Second, the reader's feelings about their home locale, and realization that they are similar to Bryson's for his. I've been to Iowa (in fact, I took a vaguely similar motor trip around the country), and frankly, it's flat, boring, and only vaguely picturesque. California, on the other hand... But this is exactly how Bryson feels about home, and the empathy the reader can feel for that is worthwhile.