The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

The Lost Continent Book Cover The Lost Continent
Bill Bryson
Travel literature

Iowan native Bill Bryson had been living in England for ten years, before being lured back to his home country for an extended visit. He travelled round America to see what had changed since he grew up in the 1950s. As he goes round America, he is searching for a mythical small town which he calls Amalgam, which is like the sort of perfect town where the films of his youth were set. He comes quite close to finding it in some places, but accepts that it will be a mix of several places. Along the way, he sees most parts of the country, from the Mid-West to California, New England to the Deep South, and shares with us readers many witty observations as he goes.


Bill Bryson is today one of the best known, if not the best known, travel writer (certainly in the UK if not in the USA and elsewhere too). The Lost Continent however was his first full length book, published in 1989 so he was an unknown then. My copy is a relatively early copy of the book, and I like the quote on the front ‘Hilarious… he can be suave, sarcastic and very funny… not your typical travel writer’. The thing is, today he is your typical travel writer, but only because he has so many imitators.

The fact it was written in 1988/89, makes it doubly fascinating to me. The name of the book is called The Lost Continent because Bryson is observing what has been lost since his youth in the 1950s, the decline of small time shops and diners as well as other facets of small town American life. I can’t help but wonder however how much more has been lost today, in 2017, compared with then. There’s as big a gap between when the book was written and today as there is from the 1950s to when Bill Bryson travelled round America for this book in the late 1980s. Sadly, I think a lot more will have been lost now, though there will perhaps be improvements too.

There’s a good balance in this book between facts, descriptions and humorous anecdotes. He’s also not too grumpy in this; he is prepared to enjoy himself and finds a lot of things to like and places that are endearing. After initial doubts about Colonial Williamsburg (‘The Walt Disney of American History’) he quite likes it in the end which I was quite pleased about because I have fond memories of going there myself a few years ago.

An excellent travel book, and one of Bill Bryson’s best. 9/10.

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