William 'Bill' McGuire Bryson (born December 8, 1951) is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on scientific subjects.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he was educated at Drake University but dropped out in 1972 after deciding to backpack around Europe for four months. He returned to Europe the following year with his high-school friend, Stephen Katz (which, it transpires, is not his real name). Some of his experiences from this trip are re-lived as flashbacks in Neither Here Nor There, which documents a similar journey Bryson made twenty years later.
In the mid-1970s, Bryson began working in a psychiatric hospital in Virginia Water, Surrey. There he met and soon married his English wife, Cynthia, a hospital nurse. Together they returned to the USA in order for Bryson to complete his college degree, after which they settled in England in 1977, remaining there until 1995. Living in North Yorkshire and mainly working as a journalist, he eventually became chief copy editor of the business section of The Times, and then deputy national news editor of the business section of The Independent. He left journalism in 1987, three years after the birth of his third child.
In 1995, Bryson returned to live in the United States (more specifically Hanover, New Hampshire) for some years. In 2003, however, Bryson and his family returned to England, and are now living in Wymondham, Norfolk.
Also in 2003, in conjunction with World Book Day, voters in Great Britain chose Bryson's book Notes From a Small Island as the book that best sums up British identity and the state of the nation. In the same year, he was appointed a Commissioner for English Heritage.
In 2004, Bryson won the prestigious Aventis Prize for best general-science book with A Short History Of Nearly Everything. This concise and engaging piece of literature explores not only the histories and current status' of the sciences, but also reveals their humble and often humorous beginnings. One "top scientist" is alleged to have jokingly described the book as "annoyingly free of mistakes".
Bryson has also written two works on the history of the English language- The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words in 1983). These books were popularly acclaimed and well-reviewed, though they received criticism from academics in the field, who claimed they contained factual errors, urban myths, and folk etymologies. Though Bryson has no formal linguistics qualifications, he is a popular and generally well-regarded writer on the subject of languages.
In 2005, Bryson was appointed Chancellor of Durham University, a city he had praised as "a perfect little city" in Notes from a Small Island. He has also been awarded honorary degrees by numerous universities.
In 2006, he published a memoir about growing up in America in the 1950s called The Life and Times Of the Thunderbolt Kid. He was made an honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his contribution to literature on December 13, 2006.
In 2007, Bryson was awarded the James Joyce Award by the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin.
In October 2020, Bill Bryson announced that he had "retired" from writing books.