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Extended Audio Sample The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir Audiobook, by Bill Bryson Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (23,145 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Bill Bryson Narrator: Bill Bryson Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: October 2006 ISBN: 9780739315248
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From one of the most beloved and bestselling authors in the English language, a vivid, nostalgic, and utterly hilarious memoir of growing up in the middle of the United States in the middle of the last century. A book that delivers on the promise that it is “laugh-out-loud funny.”

Some say that the first hints that Bill Bryson was not of Planet Earth came from his discovery, at the age of six, of a woolen jersey of rare fineness. Across the moth-holed chest was a golden thunderbolt. It may have looked like an old college football sweater, but young Bryson knew better. It was obviously the Sacred Jersey of Zap, and proved that he had been placed with this innocuous family in the middle of America to fly, become invisible, shoot guns out of people’s hands from a distance, and wear his underpants over his jeans in the manner of Superman.

Bill Bryson’s first travel book opened with the immortal line, “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” In this hilarious new memoir, he travels back to explore the kid he once was and the weird and wonderful world of 1950s America. He modestly claims that this is a book about not very much: about being small and getting much larger slowly. But for the rest of us, it is a laugh-out-loud book that will speak volumes—especially to anyone who has ever been young.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Takes us on yet another amiable ramble through terrain viewed with his characteristic mixture of bemused wit, acerbic astonishment and sweet benevolence…we come closest to the real Bryson in this, his first true memoir…encompasses so much of human experience that you want to smile and sob at once…Bryson’s evocation of an era is near perfect: tender, hilarious and true. The Times (UK)
  • A wittily incisive book about innocence, and its limits, but in no sense an innocent book…Like Alan Bennett, another ironist posing as a sentimentalist, Bryson can play the teddy-bear and then deliver a sudden, grizzly-style swipe…might tell us as much about the oddities of the American way as a dozen think-tanks. Independent
  • Always witty and sometimes hilarious…wonderfully funny and touching. Literary Review (UK)
  • A funny, effortlessly readable, quietly enchanted memoir…Bryson also provides a quirky social history of America…he always manages to slam on the brakes with a good joke just when things might get sentimental. Daily Mail (UK)
  • He can capture the flavour of the past with the lightest of touches…marvellous set pieces…As a chronicler of the foibles and absurdities of daily life, Bryson has few peers. Sunday Telegraph (UK)
  • The beautifully realized elegiac tone of his childhood memoir invites readers to go tumbling down the rabbit hole of memory into the best days of their lives…by turns playful affectionate, gently mocking, laugh-out-loud funny and even wistfully sad. His greatest gift is as a humorist, however, so it is the snickers, the guffaws and the undignified belly laughs he delivers on almost every page that make it worth buying…probably the funniest book you’ll read this year. No, dammit. It is the funniest book you’ll find anytime soon. Sydney Morning Herald
  • Is this the most cheerful book I’ve ever read, or the saddest?...hilarious…a lovely, happy book. London Evening Standard
  • Bryson [writes] with a whiff of irony and a stronger perfume of affection, but never the stink of sentimentality. Darting between his life and the trajectory of America, he slips in a few key contextualising details, which he deploys with the same deft ease that made his A Short History of Nearly Everything so sneakily edifying…very few [memoirs] contain a well of happiness this deep, or this complexly rendered. Scotland on Sunday
  • Bill Bryson’s laugh-out-loud pilgrimage through his Fifties childhood in heartland America is a national treasure. It’s full of insights, wit, and wicked adolescent fantasies. Tom Brokaw, NBC News
  • Bryson recounts the world of his younger self, buried in comic books in the Kiddie Corral at the local supermarket, resisting civil defense drills at school, and fruitlessly trying to unravel the mysteries of sex. His alter ego, the Thunderbolt Kid, born of his love for comic-book superheroes and the need to vaporize irritating people, serves as an astute outside observer of life around him. His family’s foibles are humorously presented, from his mother’s burnt, bland cooking to his father’s epic cheapness.
    The larger world of 1950s America emerges through the lens of ‘Billy’s’ world, including the dark underbelly of racism, the fight against communism, and the advent of the nuclear age.
    Library Journal
  • Travel humorist Bryson took a decisive stand regarding his hometown almost 20 years ago when he published the story “Fat Girls in Des Moines” in Granta magazine. Now the author delves more deeply into his midwestern roots in a bittersweet laugh-out-loud recollection of his growing-up years. This affectionate portrait wistfully recalls the bygone days of Burns and Allen and downtown department stores but with a good-natured elbow poke to the ribs. Booklist Reviews
  • A charming, funny recounting of growing up in Des Moines during the sleepy 1950s. Bryson combines nostalgia, sharp wit and a dash of hyperbole to recreate his childhood in the rural Midwest. A great, fun read, especially for Baby Boomers nostalgic for the good old days.
    Kirkus Reviews *Starred*
  • While many memoirs convey a bittersweet nostalgia, Bill Bryson’s loving look at his childhood in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is genuinely sweet. Framed within young Bryson’s fantasy of being a superhero, it matches the author’s sparkling wit with his vivid, candid memories of 1950s America. Adding a healthy dose of social history, Bryson tells a larger story, with vignettes that reveal the gap between America’s postwar glow and its underlying angst. Bryson also touchingly recalls his father’s career as a sportswriter, his mother’s awkward experiments with cooking and the outrageous adventures of his infamous traveling companion, Stephen Katz. Publishers Weekly, Fall Preview

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Karen | 2/8/2014

    " Another good read from Bill Bryson. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Paul | 2/2/2014

    " For those of us who were born in 1951 or grew up in the 1950s, it brings back a lot of memories. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Diane | 1/28/2014

    " Very entertaining memoir of growing up in the midwest. I could identify!! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nina | 1/27/2014

    " loved this-- funny and sweet. Plus, he gives you a lot to reflect on regarding the changing structure of our cities, businesses and consumer habits. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Shraddha Gupta | 1/26/2014

    " Of course it was funny. Very funny. And Des Moines was kind of endearing. Thats all I remember. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jsb97wsb02 | 1/22/2014

    " My daughter read this for school when she was 12 and convinced me to read along with her. This book had us both reading out loud between giggles and all out belly laughs. I love Bryson's humor! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Linda Thompson | 1/13/2014

    " I really enjoyed this book, it was written with a sense of humor I really appreciated. My kids were embarassed at how often I laughed out loud. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Dave Gourdoux | 1/11/2014

    " Bryson at the top of his game - a hilarious memoir about growing up in the midwest in the fifties, and how wonderfully insane American culture went in the post depression, post WWII years "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cathy Spicer | 12/23/2013

    " B; Author reads this account of his childhood in Des Moines, IA in the 50s. Nice writing style and interesting stories. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Claire Elwood | 12/23/2013

    " This book made me smile "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Wendy | 12/21/2013

    " I always enjoy Bill Bryson's writing, and this book is no exception. His vivid (and self-mockingly exaggerated) memoir of growing up in Des Moines is one part enjoyable romp, one part sociological exploration of the time. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Allie smith | 12/10/2013

    " hilarious, nostalgic overview of the 1950's. Reminds me of stories my mom told me about when she was growing up. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ketsugami | 12/7/2013

    " Fantastic. I highly recommend the audiobook read by the author, if you get the chance. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stephanie | 12/1/2013

    " Hi-larious. I really enjoy Bill Bryson's whit. I laughed out loud. A lot. I also enjoyed his insight into life growing up in the 50's. It reminded me of stories my dad tells or of A Christmas Story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jenn | 11/25/2013

    " I one day want to write my memoir just like this, but I fear that the 90's aren't as foreign to the world now as the fifties "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Taniel Proctor | 8/9/2013

    " I love Bill Bryson, he is super funny. There were a few inappropriate parts, but overall this book was a funny compilation of memiors about growing up in small town Iowa. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Donna Bausch | 7/20/2013

    " Any baby boomer will laugh out loud incessantly on almost every page. A joyous reminiscence of growing up in the 1950s in small town America. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carolanne | 6/4/2013

    " I bought this book one of our last days in Thailand at some horribly over priced English book shop. I read it on the plane ride home. I laughed out loud at so many parts. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Alan Vonlanthen | 6/2/2013

    " Brilliant as always! Bryson manages to provide the reader with History, behind the small and pleasant kid's stories. I now have a clear idea of what life in Rural America in the fifties and sixties must have looked like! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 William Hsu | 10/27/2012

    " I love Bill Bryson and this is probably my favorite book yet. Really enjoyed the anecdotes and the baseball references and background were also great as I am a baseball fan. Several audible chuckles could be heard coming from me on the subway in many parts throughout the novel. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Nancy Mark | 10/13/2012

    " I laughed out loud a lot. I bought it because I saw a man reading it at the Delhi airport and he laughed out loud a lot. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 3/16/2012

    " A funny, poingnant and sometimes surprising memoir of Bill Bryson's childhood in Des Moines, Iowa. Many of his memories reminded me of my own childhood - the tv shows, the corner store. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Abby | 1/14/2012

    " There were some interesting and funny things in it, but it wasn't my favorite. His narrative style is, as always, entertaining and easy to read, but I found the curse words jarring and the casual references to sex irritating. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Amity Westphalen | 12/15/2011

    " Almost as funny as A Walk in the Woods. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Humkeb | 6/25/2011

    " Bill Bryson can write strange, but interesting books. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sue | 6/23/2011

    " Funny book about growing up in Iowa during the 50s. I would recommend this book. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Michael | 6/21/2011

    " Well, now I have a little better understanding of how and where his story telling gift has come to being. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Julie | 6/19/2011

    " This book didn't hold my attention. I'm the kind of person that reads a book cover to cover and I just couldn't fight the good fight anymore. Sorry, Thunderbolt Kid. Please don't use ThunderVision on me. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Marcelo | 6/17/2011

    " Um livro óptimo tanto para jovens como para adultos que retrata a vida do autor enquanto criança, o autor é excelente pois conta tudo de uma forma que nos solta um bom par de gargalhadas! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Heather | 6/16/2011

    " I loved this book. I laughed out loud more than once! Everyone should read this book old or young. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Katharine | 6/13/2011

    " For those who grew up in the 1950s (there are a few of us left...) get the audio version of this book and take a long road trip somewhere. It is pull-over-to-the-side-of-the-road funny. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Karin | 6/9/2011

    " I started laughing on the first page and haven't stopped. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Amy | 6/8/2011

    " This was a fairly interesting look at culture of the 1950's, but there was a bit too much swearing and I just didn't need to know about his childhood sexual exploits, though they were fairly benign. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Peggy | 6/8/2011

    " I kept waiting for the book to get funnier, or get done. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amy | 6/7/2011

    " If you want to laugh til you cry, read this book! It's hysterically brilliant!
    "

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About the Author
Author Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the New York Times bestselling author of At HomeA Walk in the WoodsThe Lost ContinentMade in AmericaThe Mother Tongue, A Short History of Nearly Everything—winner of the Aventis Prize—and various other works. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he now lives in England, where he has worked for both the Times and Independent and written for most other major British and American publications.