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The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid | [Bill Bryson]

The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir of growing up in middle America in the Fifties, complete, unabridged and read by the author. Born in 1951 in the middle of the United States, Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Bryson is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24 carat memoir gold.
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Publisher's Summary

Shortlisted for Audible's Listen of the Year, 2006.

Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir of growing up in middle America in the Fifties, complete, unabridged, and read by the author.

Born in 1951 in the middle of the United States, Des Moines, Iowa, Bill Bryson is perfectly positioned to mine his memories of a totally all-American childhood for 24 carat memoir gold. Like millions of his generation, Bill Bryson grew up with a rich fantasy life as a superhero. In his case, he ran around the house wearing a jersey with a thunderbolt on it and a towel round his neck that served as his cape, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and vanquishing evildoers (in his head) as The Thunderbolt Kid.

Using his old fantasy life as a springboard, Bill Bryson recreates the life of his family in the 1950s in all its transcendent normality. In a period that saw the inexorable rise of television, the opening of Disneyland, the testing of the atomic bomb, and the explosion of choice in everything from food to cars, Bill Bryson's days followed in reassuringly cosy succession, enlivened by modest triumphs and disasters.

Warm and laugh-out-loud funny, The Thunderbolt Kid is full of Bill Bryson's inimitable, pitch-perfect observations and this unabridged recording contains every single amusing anecdote and amazing fact. Nothing is left out, so you can enjoy the whole book in its entirety, read by Bill Bryson himself.

© and (P)2006 BBC Audiobooks Ltd

What the Critics Say

"The way he tells it, to be a child in 1950s Middle America was very heaven... His own happy scrapes and triumphs (mostly scrapes) contain a good few laugh-out-loud moments, but with trademark modesty he conjures an entire era, ' the ancient lost world of the mid-20th-century.'" (The Sunday Times, Audio book of the week)
"[Bryson's] rendering of what has been widely billed as an indulgent nostalgic revisiting of his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, brings out the extent to which it is much more subtle. Bryson's voice veers from childish enthusiasm for stripping off to inspect the orifices of five-year-old chums in the "kiddy corral" or nicking liquorice "nigger babies" from sweet shops to deadpan summaries of such news stories as picnics to watch the atomic bomb tests or rampant McCarthyism exerting its vendettas against Jewish intellectuals.
A child splitting account of teenage beer heists turns sombre in the final chapter, when we hear that the boy who took the rap for the group because his parents were too highminded and poor to get him off took 25 years to recover from drink and drugs problems induced by two years in the state penitentiary.
Laugh-aloud funny as little Bill is, this is a tart reminder that the never-had-it-so-good decade of the 1950s laid the ground for the ills of modern America." (Christina Hardyment, The Times)
"Considerable added value as it is read unabridged by its author, Bill Byson." (The Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.3 (259 )
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4.6 (45 )
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  •  
    chris London, United Kingdom 26/10/2006
    chris London, United Kingdom 26/10/2006 Member Since 2005
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    "Stupid grin on my face"

    I've just spent several happy hours with a stupid grin on my face, not to mention laughing out loud (and I'm not the sort of person to laugh out loud), listening to this genuinely funny narration. Bill Bryson has a wonderful way with words - both the way he's written this and the way he's narrated it - and you don't have to be a child of the fifties to enjoy this story about childhood and 'why grown-ups are not to be trusted'. This is quite the best thing I've listened to so far in my 16 months of membership and I just didn't want it to end, so now I'm off to download some more Bryson titles...

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth Maisons-Laffitte, France 01/09/2007
    Elizabeth Maisons-Laffitte, France 01/09/2007 Member Since 2007
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    "I used to be a Bill Bryson fan!"

    Yes, even us Senior Citizens join fan clubs, or the modern equivalent thereof, which is now registering on an author's website in order to receive newsletters, etc. Bill Bryson's website is the only one I have joined as to date I have enjoyed his books so much, but now I shall be cancelling my enrolment.
    I hope, however, to enjoy reading and maybe even listening to, future books by this author but not those which he chooses to read himself. Before purchasing this particular title, I had listened to many Bill Bryson audio books, all read by William Roberts. I just wish this one had been read by him as well.
    In choosing to read his own work (or being encouraged to do so by his publishers) Bill Bryson has, I believe, made a cardinal error. His intonation and delivery rushes along in a manner which I think is difficult for those with an 'English' ear, i.e. one used to more word stress, to listen to comfortably. Some may describe Bryson's reading style as 'racy'. I wouldn't: it's poor. His reading left me wondering why this title is invariably in Audible's best seller list. I'll just have to buy a hard copy of the book and read it for myself as I'm sure it's cleverly and expertly written as Bill Bryson's books usually are. But I can't judge it on the basis of this disappointing presentation.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colin CumbernauldUnited Kingdom 16/04/2008
    Colin CumbernauldUnited Kingdom 16/04/2008
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    "Wrong Choice"

    I agree with Elizabeth. I was surprised that such an unassuming man like Bill Bryson should have chosen to narrate this audio book. If he was persuaded by others then they were wrong. A narrator can make or break an audio book and bryson's nervous manner didn't add anything. I remember Stephen King saying it is unwise for authors to narrate their own books when trained actors can do a far better job. This was the case here. Having said all that I still liked it and look forward to more of Bryson's work. PS Note to the publishers. If you decide to ask William Roberts to narrate this book I will buy it despite already owning this one.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Danielle Broendby StrandDenmark 14/11/2006
    Danielle Broendby StrandDenmark 14/11/2006 Member Since 2006
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    "Not as funny as his other books"

    I have every book published by Bill Bryston, and was eagerly waiting for his latest masterpiece. While it is interesting to learn about my favourite author's boyhood pranks, it's not nearly as witty and funny as his previous books. Put it this way, I didn't get the usual funny looks or people swapping places away from me on the train due to uncontrollable snorts of laughter.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael 10/07/2014
    Michael 10/07/2014 Member Since 2014
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    "Humour beyond the Words"
    What did you like most about The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid?

    Great book alone, made better by Bill Bryson reading his own work


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The Thunderbolt Kid - it's the childhood alter ego of Bryson himself


    Which character – as performed by Bill Bryson – was your favourite?

    As above, since it was Bryson in real life


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Mostly laughter, serious points do bring you back, making the humour all the more enjoyable


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    NH Stevens South Devon 07/07/2014
    NH Stevens South Devon 07/07/2014 Member Since 2012

    Narguesse McKellip

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    "Laughing through the 1950's"
    Where does The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    This book, perhaps especially for Americans like myself, is a priceless review of the glory days of America in the 1950's, a time of unprecedented prosperity, movement and a consumerism which took hold and never let go. Bill Bryson's account of growing up in these delicious times is funny, poignant and an unbeatable record of a life experience which can never repeated. A hilarious and informative read. One of the best.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Bill Bryson's sense of mischievous naughtiness, with ever a twinkle in his voice, as he describes a small boy growing up in a typical American household of the thriving Fifties.


    Which character – as performed by Bill Bryson – was your favourite?

    Bill Bryson reads his own material, which gives it a specific tenor and element of humour, as he clearly enjoying re-living his glorious 1950's childhood and remembering his friends and parents and their friends.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Most definitely!


    Any additional comments?

    Bill Bryson is very much a writer for the ordinary person - nothing intellectual, just sharply -observed comments on everyday life, but always historically accurate and always information. He has a knack for putting you right in there with him as he recounts his crazy adventures.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nicky Bray, Ireland 13/09/2013
    Nicky Bray, Ireland 13/09/2013 Member Since 2011
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    "Great read"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    This book was laugh out loud, hilarious. Even better that Bryson is reading it himself. Completely loved it and highly recommend it


    Which scene did you most enjoy?

    Bryson describing his Moms cooking


    Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It made me laugh so much, it made me cry


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    D. Mands UK 07/03/2013
    D. Mands UK 07/03/2013 Member Since 2012
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    "Funny journey through small town 50s American life"

    This book is awesome Bryson. His gentle but really belly laugh humour are at their best here. If A Short History of Nearly Everything is not your bag then make this your first stop on route Bryson. It will have you hooked.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Miss Leeds, United Kingdom 23/12/2012
    Miss Leeds, United Kingdom 23/12/2012
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    "Excellent anecdotes from Bill himself"

    This audiobook was a delight to listen to on my commute. It was a pleasure to hear Bill's childhood anecdotes being relayed by the author himself, and really was laugh out loud funny in parts. Highly recommended!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marvin Lincoln, United Kingdom 22/08/2012
    Marvin Lincoln, United Kingdom 22/08/2012 Member Since 2008

    Comedy and history (or a combination of both) are my listening choices. Oh, and Bill Bryson.

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    "Funny, nostalgic and factual. Brilliant!"

    Although being a fan of Mr Bryson, I stupidly deferred reading this book as I thought it would be something I couldn't relate too i.e. too American and an era before my time. However I finally relented and discovered I had made a big mistake. I can easily relate to the lost childhood and nostalgic sentiments he makes (as we all will of a certain age). This booking is two quarters hilarious (glad to see Catts ‘back’ on form), a quarter sad and a quarter factual. I was really sad to finish listening to it.

    I strongly recommend this book to both fans of Bill Bryson and as a first time reader.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-10 of 18 results PREVIOUS12NEXT
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  • Robin
    Donnybrook, Western Australia, Australia
    22/08/11
    Overall
    "I just loved it!"

    This is such a funny autobiography and brings to life the minds of small and not so small boys! Having Bill Bryson read his own biography is an added bonus as he brings it to life. I laughed out loud so often. A wonderful listen.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • Joel
    Buda, TX, USA
    06/11/06
    Overall
    "Another Bryson Hit"

    This is a great book. It contains more profanity than his past works, but usually in a context where some explicatives are required. There are also some political jabs that I think will spoil this work a generation or two down the road. I love Bill Bryson and all his other works... and as usual, it's a real treat to have the author reading their own book!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  • A User
    14/01/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A superhero's life in the superhero's words"
    Would you listen to The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid again? Why?

    I am listening to it again and again already!!! It is the funniest memoir I've read, period.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid?

    There were quite a few, my favourite was when Bill Bryson was caught reading comics on his desk when the rest of his class was sitting under their desks for a mock air raid preparation.

    The funniest was the todie jar incident, which involved peeing, jars, food and an absent minded mother. But the best bits were the turn of phrase that Bill employed and his own voice which add a texture and nuance which the other reader of this book can never match.

    Other memorable moments were when Bill talked about the reality of life in the 50s, such as racism, sex and America's obession with communism. Bill only mentioned these issues in short but extremely well researched


    What does Bill Bryson bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Bill's voice and nuance. It really does add stars to the book. If I could, I would give the book 6 stars, instead of 5, as Bill's own narration really takes the book up another level.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Funny, real, scary, great, and unmissable - The Wonder Years of Bill Bryson in the 50s.


    Any additional comments?

    For those people craving a longer book, this book despite its 7-8 hour length feels longer. Also, the rehearings will really add up as you are gaurenteed to listen to it again.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    06/08/09
    Overall
    "a must for bryson fans"

    another great storytelling by bill bryson. well worth a credit for any fan. if youve not listened to bryson before, maybe start with a walk in the wood, one of my favourites

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Philip
    Upper Hutt, New Zealand
    07/05/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A fun read."
    What made the experience of listening to The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid the most enjoyable?

    The irony of Bryson's memory as always. Despite a US upbringing it found resonances in my own UK boyhood.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    I had no complaints. Some actors might have made it even funnier.


    What three words best describe Bill Bryson’s voice?

    Funny, observant, ironic.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No but nothing to do with the book only my time.


    Any additional comments?

    Classic Bryson. Adults probably like this more than kids. Mine thought it was 'rude' which makes them seem a lot more naive than I was at their age (14/15).

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Tony
    Melbourne, Australia
    23/04/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Loved it!"
    Any additional comments?

    A great insight into America's heydays in the 1950s and 60s - laced with great humour, historical events and social insights. There was something very special about post second world war America - an unmatched optimism sometimes founded on blissful ignorance but always supported by a burning ambition - and Bill Bryson unfolds these contradictions with affection and humour. Having the author read the book only added to the authenticity of the story and helped me feel closer to one of my favourite authors.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Trevor Collins
    Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia
    06/03/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Boyhood dreams"

    A whimsical look at childhood memories in the US. Sometimes interesting, sometimes sentimental with enough humour to carry the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Pedro
    Las Pajanosas, Spain
    20/02/12
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Funny, entertaining and well written"

    I found this audiobook a very entertaining and amusing listen. Bill Bryson has a way of telling the story that makes it very enjoyable. It also had the effect of reminding me of my own childhood that, although had little to do with his (different ages and places) I could still relate to many of the stories.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Klaudia
    Warsaw, Poland
    19/12/11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "No disappointment from Billy Bryson's novel!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Learning about America's unofficial history, enriched with some private stories from Bill's family gave the book really authentic feeling. All this with really great narration make the book great fun.


    Have you listened to any of Bill Bryson’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    American taboos revealed: when American men could be found naked


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Rajesh
    Johanneburg, South Africa
    12/12/11
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Only Americans Please"

    If it is funny, it is only for the American. It is not like his earlier books. Not a classic global book which everyone can enjoy.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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