One Summer: America, 1927
by Bill Bryson
I’ve heard of Bill Bryson and his humorous travelogues for years, but One Summer: America, 1927 is the first history book of his that I’ve read. Despite being a departure from his travel books of years ago, his particular brand of humor is definitely present in this 400+ page book that felt like a quick read. While I would say taking a close look at any year in American history will yield a lot of material, Bryson makes the summer (summer being May to, well, October) of 1927 seem frenetic with Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic and the craziness that ensued, Babe Ruth’s record sixty home runs, a meeting of world financial leaders that precipitated the stock market crash of 1929, Al Capone’s last summer of rule in Chicago, Sacco and Vanzetti’s executions, the filming of The Jazz Singer, a terrible Mississippi River valley flood, and, well, thirty other things at least!
This book could have felt overwhelming, but Bryson’s flowing writing style eases the reader into the background history for all the major events of 1927. I was surprised by several historical tidbits I learned including that there were a lot of bombings in the US in the 1920s including via the mail. And that the KKK had a huge presence in the government of Indiana and several other states. And that “Of all the labels that were applied to the 1920s—the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, the Age of Ballyhoo, the Era of Wonderful Nonsense—one that wasn’t used but perhaps should have been was the Age of Loathing. There may never have been another time in the nation’s history when more people disliked more other people from more directions and for less reason.” That sounds negative, but Bryson’s humor elevates One Summer to a great read and one that reveals parallels to America today.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson
The Last Hero: Charles A. Lindbergh by Walter S. Ross