Sunday, October 21, 2012

Made in America by Bill Bryson

Made in America was published in 1994. In principle, it is a book about English words that originated in the area that is now the United States of America. However, it is much more than that. It is a book about people, places, customs, and languages. The history of words is often a pretext for Bill to tell an interesting story about a person, an invention, about immigration, film making, aviation, advertising, sex, or car manufacturing.

Here is a sample of Bill Bryson's style from chapter 15, The Movies:
"It is a curious fact that this most American of phenomena was created almost entirely by non-Americans. Apart from Mack Senett and Mary Pickford (who were in any case both Canadian), the early studios were run by a small band of men who had begun life from strikingly similar backgrounds: they were all eastern European Jews, poor and uneducated, who had left Europe in the same decade (the 1880s), and had established themselves in the New World in the mostly lowly trades before they all abruptly - and instinctively, it seems - abandoned their careers in the first decade of this century and became seized with the opportunities to be found in the nickelodeon business." 
This introduction is followed by detailed stories of many men, among them Samuel Goldwyn, whose name makes the middle part of Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and who was born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw. Goldwyn's memorable contributions to the English language include 'Gentlemen, include me out', and 'You've bitten the hand of the goose that laid the golden egg'. :-)

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