Don't get me wrong. This is an amusing book. I didn't find it quite as funny as I found my previous read, but it certainly manages to generate a few snorts'n'chuckles. However--and oh, how much I hate to admit this!--I had a problem with this book. It stems from the fact that it is written for a British reader, and the author is laughing at Americans (read: me) along with his audience, rather than laughing with us. (It didn't help that this realization was immediately followed by a chapter entitled "Sense of Humor Failure"--the point of which was that Americans don't have a sense of humor. Ack!)
Big Country is made up of Bill Bryson's newspaper columns about various aspects of life in America. Bryson is a quasi-American writer who was born in Iowa but spent 20 years of his adult life in England, acquiring a British wife and producing several children in the meantime. Everything in this book was written after he and his family moved back to the States and settled in New Hampshire. All sorts of subjects are raised in this book, from the nostalgic (diners) to the comic (Christmas decorations) to the ridiculous (tax forms) to the outrageous (classic American wastefulness).
Some of the essays--like the one about uniform blandness--were thought-provoking and provided great fodder for discussion between me and my husband during our long hours in the car (which was, of course, one of the things Bryson mocked). Others rankled slightly, since they didn't apply to me but I had to admit that I know people like the ones Bryson described. But too many of chapters mocked all Americans for characteristics that apply to few (if any) Americans I know. In the final chapter, entitled "What Makes an Englishman," Bryson writes about the good he finds in America, but it wasn't enough to make up for the rest of the book.
Maybe if I had read another Bryson book first (namely Notes From a Small Island) I might have been more accepting of the continual ribbing I received from Big Country. I intended at some point to read his book A Short History of Nearly Everything, but now that my Bryson experience has been tainted, I'm not so sure I want to. On the other hand, perhaps in that one everyone gets a fair shake.
If you are British (or really, any nationality but American), read this book. You will laugh. You will also get a slightly erroneous and stereotyped view of America, but you will have fun doing so. If you are American, just be prepared for the fact that you may cringe just as often as you giggle.