In a Sunburned Country
by Bill Bryson
Release Date: 15 May, 2001
As a Canadian who's been in Australia for a couple of years now I really enjoyed this book. Bryson captures the eccentricities of Australia and Australians very well. The book is a very easy, light hearted read with some good laughs. The main drawback of the book is that (with a couple of exceptions) he doesn't actually make me want to see any of the places he praises -- even though I've seen a few of them myself! He does spend far too much time in cafes and hotel rooms and not enough time talking to local people. He also doesn't even visit many of Australia's greatest sights. Do not read this book expecting some sort of tourism brochure. The book's success is that it manages to capture so many of the intangible aspects of Australia, and for that reason I recommend it. If you want to get a "big picture" overview seen through the lens of one particularly entertaining writer, you could do a lot worse than this. Just don't expect it to "sell" you on Oz. Come down for a visit and check it out yourself.
Since I was planning to backpack around Australia I thought I'd read this book to discover some interesting spots that weren't in the guidebooks. Unfortunately this book did not fill those needs.
Mr Bryson appears to enjoy reading about countries more than actually travelling around them. There are many wonderful anecdotes from various literary sources (although some are far from original, despite claims to the contrary) but very little in the way of interesting experiences. For example, he spends six months in Australia and then whoops with joy upon encountering his first bit of wild life in Perth; sorry but you can't miss the kangaroos, dingos and wallabies here - he must have had his eyes shut.
Much of the book is dedicated to the country's cities (which aren't particularly unique) with only the final third actually about the more interesting countryside and outback.
This book is well written and entertaining (apart from endless comments about how people 50 years ago were so happy compared to now, and frankly stupid statements such as "It's delightful to find a city [Perth] here in the first place") and if you're interested in the history of Australia then it has some great tales that you're unlikely to have heard of before. If though, like me, you'd hoped to hear about some of the more outlandish places and characters from Down Under then you'll be sorely disappointed.