by John Tarpley
"The Thunderbolt Kid" certainly did well for himself, didn't he? Little Billy Bryson, the over-imaginative kid from Des Moines who relied on his own creative willpower to force through rugged terrains and exotic places, grew up to be the inquisitive, ever-curious Bill Bryson, the world's most beloved, accessible travel writer, linguist and lovably ultra-amateur scientist. He's the face of the liberal arts and, as The Guardian so succinctly described, "the Frank Capra of American letters." All cherubic and humble in spite of his super-powered brain, Bryson has a way turning questions about, say, "why men have a row of useless buttons on their suit jacket sleeves" into a loose-fitting, belly-laughing trip through time.