Bill Bryson has never really written conventional travel books and that’s something that’s pretty obvious straight away when reading The Lost Continent, his first ever “travel” book. There are no guides or “top five things to do in” lists to follow for you own trips, but what you do get is an hilarious journey to the heart of small-town America.
Written in 1989, it’s just as relevant today as it was at the end of the eighties, comparing the booming 1950s small-town America of his childhood in parts to the then modern day America. Individuality and small enterprise given way to towns that could be anywhere USA with their fast food strips and franchised stores.
More of a societal commentary, The Lost Continent is an insightful jump into life in America and the small towns that underpin it all. However, it is Bryson’s grumpy, luckless man adventures that make reading the book so enjoyable.
His lack of political correctness verges on being antiquated, but the book was based on trips around America in 1987 and 1988. The other thing to mention is that America itself has changed a fair bit in the intervening time, so some of the random slagging-offs he gives to places are no so true anymore (Nevada gets a pretty big bashing unnecessarily and Yosemite National Park is amazing, no matter how many overweight tourists there are around).
At his wittiest though he’s as sharp and direct as a broadsword through the chest, especially when he’s bemoaning ugly hotel additions to beautiful cities. At his most poetic, the words fall from the page like a beautiful snowfall. He’s occasionally brilliantly random, often damning and cuttingly truthful (Custer!), but every now and again he just gets it wrong (seriously, a Cornish pasty trumps a soggy burger any day of the week. Especially one the size of your head). Maybe that’s what makes his books so great.
Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent review: 4/5