Bill Bryson had imagined Australia as a kind of alternative southern California. Of course, what greeted him was something rather different. Australia is the world's sixth largest country and the only island that is also a continent. It is the driest, flattest, hottest, most climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents and still teems with life - a large proportion of it quite deadly. Ignoring such dangers, Bill Bryson journeyed to Australia and promptly fell in love with the country. And who can blame him - life doesn't get much better than this.
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Bill Bryson follows his Appalachian amble, A Walk in the Woods, with the story of his exploits in Australia, where A-bombs go off unnoticed, prime ministers disappear into the surf, and cheery citizens coexist with the world's deadliest creatures: toxic caterpillars, aggressive seashells, crocodiles, sharks, snakes, and the deadliest of them all, the dreaded box jellyfish. And that's just the beginning, as Bryson treks through sunbaked deserts and up endless coastlines, crisscrossing the "under-discovered" Down Under in search of all things interesting.
Bryson, who could make a pile of dirt compelling--and yes, Australia is mostly dirt--finds no shortage of curiosities. When he isn't dodging Portuguese man-of-wars or considering the virtues of the remarkable platypus, he visits southwest Gippsland, home of the world's largest earthworms (up to 12 feet in length). He discovers that Australia, which began nationhood as a prison, contains the longest straight stretch of railroad track in the world (297 miles), as well as the world's largest monolith (the majestic Uluru) and largest living thing (the Great Barrier Reef). He finds ridiculous place names: "Mullumbimby Ewylamartup, Jiggalong, and the supremely satisfying Tittybong," and manages to catch a cricket game on the radio, which is like
listening to two men sitting in a rowboat on a large, placid lake on a day when the fish aren't biting; it's like having a nap without losing consciousness. It actually helps not to know quite what's going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distraction.
"You see," Bryson observes, "Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I'm saying." Of course, Bryson--who is as much a travel writer here as a humorist, naturalist, and historian--says much more, and does so with generous amounts of wit and hilarity. Australia may be "mostly empty and a long way away," but it's a little closer now. --Rob McDonaldFrom the Back Cover:
Every time Bill Bryson walks out the door memorable travel literature threatens to break out. His previous excursion up, down and over the Appalachian Trail resulted in the sublime bestseller A Walk in the Woods. Now he has traveled around the world and all the way "Down Under" to Australia, a shockingly under-discovered country with the friendliest inhabitants, the hottest, driest weather and the most peculiar and lethal wildlife to be found on this planet. In a Sunburned Country is a deliciously funny, fact-filled and adventurous performance by a writer who combines humor, wonder and unflagging curiosity.
Australia is a country that exists on a vast scale. It is the only island that is also a continent and the only continent that is also a country. Despite being the most desiccated, infertile and climactically aggressive of all inhabited continents, it teems with life. In fact, Australia has more things that can kill you in extremely nasty ways than anywhere else: sharks, crocodiles, the ten most deadly poisonous snakes on the planet, fluffy yet toxic caterpillars, seashells that actually attack you, and the unbelievable box jellyfish.
Wherever Bryson goes he finds Australians who are cheerful, extroverted and unfailingly obliging -- the beaming products of a land with clean, safe cities, cold beer, and constant sunshine. Australia is an immense and fortunate land, and it has found in Bill Bryson its perfect guide.
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