It’s hard to describe Bill Bryson’s Made in America as a genre: it’s partially an etymology, partially a history, and mostly a collection of witty anecdotes.
Bill Bryson is one of these few people who genuinely seem to make a living by writing non-fiction. His writing is funny, accessible and no-nonsense… Although as a very boring person I would not have complained if there were more footnotes (or the ones that were there were more explicit).
Made in America is a series of reflections on America’s language and culture, grouped by theme and by a vaguely chronological order – from the early colonizers adapting native American names ( Quonectacut becoming Connecticut, for instance) to the interesting origin of the word “bikini” names after the Bikini, named for the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific where the Americans had just begun testing the Atomic bomb.
There is something here for everyone: from the origins of Kellog’s breakfast cereal and supermarkets to the baseball terms that have been absorbed into mainstream English – these are the things that tend not make not to make it into textbooks and continue to shape everyday life. Reading through Bryson, you will learn how McDonald’s got started and when the first department stores opened in big American cities.
That said, bear in mind that because the book’s area of interest is very wide, probably not every single one of them appeals to you. I struggled through the chapter on names sports – as I care little for baseball and less still for American football. It’s a book to dip into and enjoy – it will certainly make you appreciate the history and the cultural richness of the United States.