The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record.
The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.
I am a massive fan of Bill Bryson's writing, I have read all of his books and thoroughly enjoyed them, they've made me laugh and I've learned a lot. I was very excited to receive an advance review copy of his latest book, and I set about read it right away. Now it is a massive book, very heavy so it didn't fit in my handbag. In the end I read the book until the audiobook that I had pre-ordered downloaded and then I finished it off in audiobook format. I had the best of both worlds-the audiobook is read by bill Bryson and I could listen to it in the car on my commute, and the hardback is gorgeous with wonderful photographs, a super storable cover and a nice stocky length of book!
I really enjoyed this latest book. Although it wasn't as funny as some of his other writing, I learnt an awful lot about America during this period, a time that I actually learnt about during my history GCSE! The structure of the book was one of the things I enjoyed the most. Everything linked into something else. Lindbergh crossing the ocean had an impact on one thing and president Coolidge deciding not to run for president had an impact on something else, it was well structured and chronological at the same time. Bryson knows when a reader is likely to get fed up of one subject and swiftly moves onto another subject.
Even though this is a history of America and I live in the UK it stil, had an impact on things like television, war, flight, cars and so It was really interesting to learn about the origin and development of many of these things. I found the sections on prohibition and the movie industry really enjoyable and my knowledge of baseball has increased now by at east one thousand percent! Bill Bryson's tone is its usual chatty self meaning that, as a reader, you feel at ease with the narrative, you feel as if Bryson is talking to you and only you. His writing never makes you feel stupid and yet he doesn't really assume any prior knowledge, great when you are a Brit learning about American history and culture!
The best part of this book for me in the end was the epilogue. Now I love an epilogue in any kind of writing and love it in a fiction book when I get to find out what happened to all the characters, how they ended up and what the consequences of their actions were. This book did exactly that. Bryson wrapped up his book by revisiting all of the names mentioned in previous chapters and told us what had become of them all. I won't spoil any of it for you, but there were some real shockers there! I really enjoyed this book and if you have the time to read this, it is well worth it, I can recommend it in either format, or do as I did and read both!
Click here to grab a copy and see for yourself!