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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.

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Critic reviews

"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 ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • chris
  • London, United Kingdom
  • 26-10-06

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...

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A nostalgic view of childhood

Bryson narrates his own novel like a much loved uncle retelling stories of his youth. The book covers his childhood during the 50's and 60's in rural America. It gives an insight into the hope that filled a nation and how this changed as pivotal moments in American history unravel. These are captured from a child's eye with great wonder. Part of the beauty of the book is it captures the human condition at childhood. There's also some great moments of humour that made me chuckle. I wouldn't normally read a biography, but found this an entertaining read.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant

An incredible, engrossing portrait of different time. Bryson succeeds as ever in holding your attention throughout.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic

Extremely funny and well read. Hard to find another book quite like it. The right sort of length.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Bill Brysons best book

A wonderful, funny and in parts moving book. I loved Bill Bryson narration....just perfect.
I have listened to it twice now which I haven't ever done with an audible book before but this is well worth it.....loved every minute.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • martin
  • MACCLESFIELD, United Kingdom
  • 24-11-15

HOME RUN!

Where does The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Top 10 as I,m a bit of a Bryson fan!

What other book might you compare The Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid to, and why?

non in my collection

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

His father...especially when he caught his parents having sex...very funny!

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

Its doable...just

Any additional comments?

Ive yet to find an Author with a more engaging style Than Bryson. Just love his style of narration!

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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My heart broke a little when it ended

A wonderful book made all the more special for the author reading it. I laughed often and very nearly cried. Bravo

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Elizabeth
  • Maisons-Laffitte, France
  • 01-09-07

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.

20 of 28 people found this review helpful

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Enjoyed it

A sometimes funny and somewhat sad journey through Bryan's childhood in mid-America in the 1950/60s.
As always it's well written and full of interesting facts. There are a couple of laugh out load moments, but some very sad moments where Bryson reminisces over what has been lost with passing time.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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everything about this book is excellent

fascinating, engaging, compelling, and funny too. I must have listened to this at least a dozen times.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Robin
  • 22-08-11

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

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Joel
  • 06-11-06

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

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  • Sumit G.
  • 14-01-12

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

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Craig
  • 06-08-09

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

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Erik
  • 14-03-17

Absolutely loved this book, nicely read!

I loved this book, well read with just enough wit and humour to make me laugh out loud at times. sincere and heart-warming at times. a must read or listen for anyone who enjoys Bill Bryson!

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  • Neale Blackwood
  • 24-10-15

The 50's were dangerous

Any additional comments?

Obviously this type of book benefits greatly by having the author read it and this was very enjoyable. Wow the 50's were dangerous, its a wonder anyone survived. A great romp through Bill Bryson's early life, growing up in the 50's. If you like his other books you will like this one. It has some wonderful over and understatements throughout. He captures a kid's perspective with great skill.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Philip
  • 07-05-12

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).

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tony
  • 23-04-12

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.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Trevor Collins
  • 06-03-12

Boyhood dreams

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

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Pedro
  • 20-02-12

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.