Friday, May 2, 2014

Review: One Summer: America, 1927

Bill Bryson is right. The summer of 1927 was an amazing year. in One Summer: America, 1927,  he convinces his readers in his usual engaging, fascinating and conversational way.

Lindbergh? Check. Babe Ruth? Check. Clara Bow, Jack Dempsey, Sacco and Vanzetti? Check, check and double check. He has them all, plus storms and floods, Hoover and Coolidge, a few extra aviators, race relations, gangsters, Prohibition, Broadway musicals and Mount Rushmore.

In no time, you're wishing you lived in 1927 (albeit the safer, wealthier lifestyle). (Hint: it wasn't as a baseball player.)

Bryson does not skate across the top of his topics. He makes sure you understand clearly why aviation was in its heyday in the United States. He is clear about how Prohibition became, remained, then finally was defeated as law. He does it not only with the Roosevelts, Coolidges, Lindberghs and Capones, but also with the individuals with whom you may not be as familiar: Philo Farnsworth, Bill Tilden, Wilson B. Hickox, Robert G. Elliott, Mabel Willebrandt. There were people famous and infamous in their day, people who had the misfortune of becoming a celebrity — or at least renown — in public, unfortunate ways.

As a reader, his chapter near the end about what writers were famous and what books and authors, now famous, were regarded with disdain. I am grateful he agrees with me about Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose books I wanted to like but just couldn't see the attraction. (Much like Anne Rice, Burroughs can concoct a great story, but can't write his way out of a paper bag.)

This fascinating read, complete with photos, ties up all loose ends. Those who were a part of 1927 didn't just vanish at the end of the year and Bryson makes sure you know how those stories ended, starting with Ruth Snyder or Judd Gray).

I love the engaging, inviting way Bryson writes. He makes me wish I was on the field with Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth on July 4, 1939 so I could know what Ruth said to his old friend. We feel Lindbergh's shock and discomfort at his endless parades and speeches and we're as confounded as the media at Coolidge's August 2 news conference.

Spend a few months in 1927 with Bryson. You'll be glad you did.

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