One Summer: America, 1927

One Summer: America, 1927

In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.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 ai...

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Title:One Summer: America, 1927
Author:Bill Bryson
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Edition Language:English

One Summer: America, 1927 Reviews

  • Dedra

    A five star review from an avowed fiction reader for a non fiction book is pretty rare. But this book kept me just as enthralled as a great novel. What a summer 1927 was and what a storyteller Bill Bryson is! From the fascinating little known facts about Charles Lindbergh's flight (and all the disastrous attempts before him) that I had to read aloud to my husband saying, "Did you know this?" to the gossipy stories about Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and some really stupid murderers, I couldn't put

    A five star review from an avowed fiction reader for a non fiction book is pretty rare. But this book kept me just as enthralled as a great novel. What a summer 1927 was and what a storyteller Bill Bryson is! From the fascinating little known facts about Charles Lindbergh's flight (and all the disastrous attempts before him) that I had to read aloud to my husband saying, "Did you know this?" to the gossipy stories about Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge and some really stupid murderers, I couldn't put this book down. Don't let the size of this book stop you. When I finished it, I wished it were longer.

  • Mike

    Only one man could take Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight, Babe Ruth's record setting home runs, the worst flooding in US History, a surprise announcement by President Coolidge, the execution of two Italian anarchists, the introduction of taking motion pictures, television and the electric chair and dozens of other totally unrelated events that happened during the Summer of 1927 and connect the dots. Of course, I'm talking about Des Moines' own, Bill Bryson.

    Several years ago I picked

    Only one man could take Charles Lindbergh's 1927 transatlantic flight, Babe Ruth's record setting home runs, the worst flooding in US History, a surprise announcement by President Coolidge, the execution of two Italian anarchists, the introduction of taking motion pictures, television and the electric chair and dozens of other totally unrelated events that happened during the Summer of 1927 and connect the dots. Of course, I'm talking about Des Moines' own, Bill Bryson.

    Several years ago I picked up a copy of Bryson's, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid and became so struck with his ability to put words on a page I immediately had to anoint myself as the President of the International Bill Bryson Fan Club. Within a few weeks I had devoured everything BB had ever written and eagerly awaited being one of the first to read his newest works that followed.

    This time, I was able to read a publisher's advance copy of "One Summer, America, 1927" a full month prior to the book's introduction to book stores.

    While you may think that the events of the Summer of 1927 are not, high on your list of things to know, please do yourself a favor and pick up this book. I promise you will find yourself LOLing and wanting to reread passages aloud to anyone within an earshot. Even cataract surgery could not force me to put down this book!

  • Jim Fonseca

    A non-fiction work centered around events of one particular year but about the 1920’s in general. It’s really a collections of mini-biographies and vignettes of the major players and events of the 1920’a. Fifty photos are included. The two main characters threaded throughout the book whose stories provide a framework for the whole are Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth.

    If you read this book, here’s what you’ll get:

    Stories of early aviation and how the US was way behind Europe in scheduled commerci

    A non-fiction work centered around events of one particular year but about the 1920’s in general. It’s really a collections of mini-biographies and vignettes of the major players and events of the 1920’a. Fifty photos are included. The two main characters threaded throughout the book whose stories provide a framework for the whole are Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth.

    If you read this book, here’s what you’ll get:

    Stories of early aviation and how the US was way behind Europe in scheduled commercial air travel

    The “sash weight murder” and the rise of the tabloids. (For young people, sash weights were heavy iron pipes used in the mechanism of wood windows.)

    Prohibition, flappers and Al Capone (who really only had a 3-year reign as gangster king)

    The Bath, Michigan school bombing that killed 44

    The first national radio broadcasts and networks

    NYC became the world’s largest city; the skyscraper boom

    The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

    The Stock market “buy-now, pay-later” bubble leading up to the 1929 crash despite rapid economic growth, the decline of debt and zero inflation

    Were the 1927 Yankees the best team ever? – Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig

    Henry Ford, the Models T and A; the rubber boom and his Fordlandia settlement in Brazil; tires only lasted 2000-3000 miles in those days

    The Florida real estate boom and the one-two knock-out hurricanes of 1926 and 1928

    Sacco and Vanzetti and the bombings before and after their trials

    Calvin Coolidge’s surprise announcement that he would not run for a second term

    1927 was the peak year for Broadway shows; Show Boat created the musical as we know it

    Mt. Rushmore; flag pole sitting; the rise of boxing and Jack Dempsey drew bigger crowds than baseball games

    Talkies started; Clara Bow was out due to her heavy Brooklyn accent

    An era of bigotry: the resurgence of the KKK especially in Indiana; rumors of the Pope moving the Vatican to Indiana (how’s that for early fake news?); eugenics; national origin legislation that reduced the immigration of people who were not northern Europeans

    A golden age of writers: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Joyce, Woolf, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound

    Of course Bryson gives us a very engaging style; it reminds me of

    (or vice-versa). Really worth a read.

  • Diane

    This is a fun and interesting look at America in the 1920s, but specifically the summer of 1927. It is remarkable how much happened in a few short months:

    "Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence.

    was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flo

    This is a fun and interesting look at America in the 1920s, but specifically the summer of 1927. It is remarkable how much happened in a few short months:

    "Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. The Federal Reserve made the mistake that precipitated the stock market crash. Al Capone enjoyed his last summer of eminence.

    was filmed. Television was created. Radio came of age. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed. President Coolidge chose not to run. Work began on Mount Rushmore. The Mississippi flooded as it never had before. A madman in Michigan blew up a school and killed 44 people in the worst slaughter of children in American history. Henry Ford stopped making the Model T and promised to stop insulting Jews. And a kid from Minnesota flew across an ocean and captivated the planet in a way it had never been captivated before. Whatever else it was, it was one hell of a summer."

    I've always loved history, and Bryson does a marvelous job of weaving together different stories and putting events in context. For example, Prohibition was still going on in 1927, but Bryson goes back to 1920 and explains how it came about. Or take the story of Charles Lindbergh. Before Bryson covers that first famous flight to France, he gives a brief history of aviation and explains how deadly and dangerous it had been. Those kinds of details really make the book fly, if you'll forgive the pun.

    There are so many interesting stories in this book, but here are the Top 5 Things I Learned from

    :

    1. That Henry Ford was an ignorant jackass. "He was defiantly narrow-minded, barely educated and at least close to functionally illiterate. He did not like bankers, doctors, liquor, tobacco, idleness of any sort, pasteurized milk, Wall Street, overweight people, war, books or reading, J.P. Morgan and Co., capital punishment, tall buildings, college graduates, Roman Catholics or Jews."

    2. How ridiculous Prohibition was, and that it lasted for 13 years! "The 1920s was in many ways the most strange and wondrous decade in American history, and nothing made it more so than Prohibition. It was easily the most extreme, ill-judged, costly, and ignored experiment in social engineering ever conducted by an otherwise rational nation... It made criminals out of honest people and actually led to an increase in the amount of drinking in the country."

    3. That Babe Ruth was a hot mess. "The most brilliant, headstrong, undisciplined, lovable, thrillingly original, ornery son of a bitch that ever put on a baseball uniform."

    4. How widespread bigotry was. "Of all the labels that were applied to the 1920s -- the Jazz Age, the Roaring 20s, 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."

    5. The incredible impact that American films had, especially after talking pictures were created. "Moviegoers around the world suddenly found themselves exposed, often for the first time, to American voices, American vocabulary, American cadence and pronunciation and word order. Spanish conquistadores, Elizabethan courtiers, figures from the Bible were suddenly speaking in American voices — and not just occasionally but in film after film after film. The psychological effect of this, particularly on the young, can hardly be overstated. With American speech came American thoughts, American attitudes, American humor and sensibilities. Peacefully, by accident, and almost unnoticed, America had just taken over the world."

    I listened to 70 percent of this book on audio CD, and then my car CD player broke. While I enjoyed finishing up with a printed copy, I did miss Bryson's voice. If you like audiobooks, I highly recommend his narrations.

    I've lost track of how many Bill Bryson books I've read, but it's never enough. I love his humorous and clever style, and I hope he keeps writing for several more decades.

  • Kemper

    If you think that you had a busy summer, consider 1927:

    Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and became a national hero. Babe Ruth broke his own home run record on a Yankees club that would be remembered as one of the best baseball teams ever assembled. The Midwest was devastated by extensive flooding and the Secretary of Commerce Hebert Hoover was in charge of recovery efforts. A routine murder trial in New York became a media sensation for reasons no one can explain. Sacco and Vanzetti were e

    If you think that you had a busy summer, consider 1927:

    Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and became a national hero. Babe Ruth broke his own home run record on a Yankees club that would be remembered as one of the best baseball teams ever assembled. The Midwest was devastated by extensive flooding and the Secretary of Commerce Hebert Hoover was in charge of recovery efforts. A routine murder trial in New York became a media sensation for reasons no one can explain. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed and sparked outrage around the world. Prohibition was still in effect but that didn’t stop Al Capone’s criminal empire from reaching the height of its power.

    Capone also attended a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney that would captivate the nation and still be controversial today. A young engineer with the awesome name of Philo T. Farnsworth made a critical breakthrough that would lead to the development of television, and another entertainment milestone occurred when the first full length motion picture with sound began filming. After building 15 million Model Ts, Henry Ford’s company ceased production and began creating the Model A. In South Dakota, the work of carving four president’s faces into Mount Rushmore began. Last but not least, four bankers had a meeting in which they made a decision that would eventually start the Great Depression.

    And yet Bryan Adams picked another summer to immortalize in song…

    Bill Bryson’s book is packed with the details of these events and many more along with plenty of related stories and anecdotes. It should read like a trivia book of 1927 factoids, but what makes it more than that is the deft way that Bryson establishes the history of what came before as well as the long term impact. For example, he doesn’t just tell the story of Lindbergh’s historic flight and of his subsequent fame, he also lays out in a succinct manner how America had been trailing the world in aviation up until that point as well as how it changed things afterwards.

    It’s that context that makes this more than just a list of events, and he also goes to some effort to add depth in several places like describing how horrifyingly racist American society was in those days with the Ku Klux Klan enjoying a reemergence while even supposedly high-brow publications like

    would casually use ethnic slurs. By the time he tells the readers about how outlandish eugenics theories became influential which resulted in tens of thousands of people being legally sterilized in the United States, the reader can understand all too well how it could happen in that kind of environment.

    In fact, one of the things that jumped out at me about this is that most of the popular figures of 1927 were basically assholes. Charles Lindbergh's boyish good lucks and piloting skill got the press to overlook that he was about as interesting as white bread, and he’d show a nasty streak of anti-Semitism later in his life that would severely tarnish his image. Henry Ford was also a notorious anti-Semite, and he was also the kind of ignoramus that despised people with educations or scientific background. His refusal to consult any types of experts led him to waste millions on schemes like trying to start a rubber plantation in South America and shutting down his assembly lines to retool for the Model A with no clear plan as to what exactly they’d build. (After reading about Ford‘s stubborn mistakes, I can’t believe the Ford Motor Company managed to survive long enough to make it to the Great Depression, let alone still be in business today.)

    Herbert Hoover led a life that should have made him one of America’s most fascinating presidents. He was a self-made success story who had traveled the world as a mining consultant and was credited with a relief effort that fed millions in Europe during World War I. Yet he seemed to take no pleasure in anything other than work and one long time acquaintance noted that he never heard him laugh once in 30 years. Calvin Coolidge believed so much in limiting the role of government that he spent most of his presidency napping and would refuse to take even the most of innocuous of actions like endorsing a national week of recognition for the importance of education.

    It’s funny that since the book describes so many people as either being unlikable, unethical or downright criminal that one of the few that seems decent was Babe Ruth. While all of the Babe’s bad habits are laid out here, he also comes across as one of the few that did what he was good at with an exuberant zest for life and generous spirit that was sadly lacking in many of his contemporaries. The guy may have enjoyed his food, liquor and women to excess, but he never hid who he was. Plus, he was fun at parties!

    Bryson’s look at the events, large and small, that made up one pivotal summer is an interesting read that provides a clear window to the past while being highly entertaining.

  • Carmen

    [Insert Snake Plissken gif here]

    Bill Bryson takes a look at almost everything going on in the summer of 1927. Think Sacco and Vanzetti, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, the invention of TV and talkies, Coolidge, Hoover, and Henry Ford.

    What struck me most about this book is that the things going on in 1927 aren't that much different than the things going on today.

    [Insert Snake Plissken gif here]

    Bill Bryson takes a look at almost everything going on in the summer of 1927. Think Sacco and Vanzetti, Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Al Capone, the invention of TV and talkies, Coolidge, Hoover, and Henry Ford.

    What struck me most about this book is that the things going on in 1927 aren't that much different than the things going on today.

    Recently, people try to claim Obama isn't an American.

    Gun control AND the murder rate in Chicago are still big issues.

    Polyamory 1927

    Nowadays polyamory is becoming more accepted.

    is published in 1997. The most recent issue of Time magazine (September 21, 2015) leads with "IS MONOGAMY OVER?" across the top.

    The Red Scare leads to thousands of arrests without warrants or probable cause. Still happening today, but not with people feared as communists.

    (Referencing the anarchist bombings of prominent officials)

    Still dealing with terrorism and the fear of it today.

    A

    of the book deals with the overwhelming hatred of Jewish people, black people, and immigrants. Still dealing with all that shit today.

    Germany 1927 or Argentina 1998-2002?

    In the book, we see that Warren G. Harding fathers a child out of wedlock.

    We still have scandals with American presidents who can't seem to keep their penis in their trousers.

    Freedom fries, anyone? LOL

    Still tons of anti-American sentiment abroad for various reasons.

    1927, Andrew Kehoe blows up a school.

    Today: school shootings.

    ...

    Besides this, you have some interesting facts about famous people that perhaps you didn't know before.

    Both Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were anti-semitic. Both were admired and respected by Hitler.

    Babe Ruth slept with any woman he could, including the wives of other men and the wives of his teammates.

    Clara Bow, the famous movie star,

    also seemed to be happily and unabashedly promiscuous - sleeping with 6 different men in the production of just one of her films. I admire her gumption. :) LOL Bryson details much more of both Ruth and Bow's exciting love affairs in the book.

    It's funny to see how the concept of "morality" was being set up and played with in the 1920s. I mean, we all know how Prohibition turned out.

    Also, boxing was taking off in popularity among white people for the first time, which raised moral concerns about how white women might become... um... excited by the sport.

    ...

    However, the book is not a total win.

    There is A LOT of stuff on aviation and flight. While this was interesting to me, it may not be to other people.

    And there is A LOT of stuff on baseball. I have no interest in baseball. Zero. Zilch. None. Reading Bryson ramble on and on and on about baseball and baseball games was making me sleepy. And this wasn't some "little parts" of the book. It's not only a huge portion of the book, but it's scattered all throughout the book (same with the aviation stuff).

    You're warned. If you're not enamored of aviation and baseball, you might struggle to get through this book.

    ...

    Tl;dr - As a history tome, this is fascinating and fun. Bryson is right to take a simple three months out of one year and focus exclusively on that for his book. Any more than that and it would have been too overwhelming. As it is, it is just right. Bryson can focus on an entire range of subjects but not let it get out of hand. I loved learning about historical figures, I loved getting a thorough glimpse into the past, and even though some things were disturbing to read about (eugenics in particular), I feel like I learned a lot - the number one lesson being that the human race is still dealing with a lot of the same problems as it was ~90 years ago.

    However, I'm happy to report that flying in a plane is about a billion times safer than it was in 1927. You wouldn't BELIEVE how many people die or disappear in planes in this book. Tons. Tons of people. o.O It was just accepted that if you fly, you might die. I'm so grateful for modern air travel!

  • Jason Koivu

    I know I'm Johnny-come-lately on the Bill Bryson bandwagon, but I am fast becoming a full-fledged fanclub member!

    Honestly, I'd read just about anything that dude wrote. In fact, if I can convince him to write my obituary, I'm going to throw myself in front of a bus the first chance I get just so I can read it!

    The title of

    explains pretty clearly what's between the covers. And oh boy, what a whole heck of a lot happened that year! Here's some of the highlights >>&

    I know I'm Johnny-come-lately on the Bill Bryson bandwagon, but I am fast becoming a full-fledged fanclub member!

    Honestly, I'd read just about anything that dude wrote. In fact, if I can convince him to write my obituary, I'm going to throw myself in front of a bus the first chance I get just so I can read it!

    The title of

    explains pretty clearly what's between the covers. And oh boy, what a whole heck of a lot happened that year! Here's some of the highlights >>>

    Lindbergh's story and that of flight in general takes up a large portion of this book. Babe Ruth and the Yankees also feature prominently. The tragic trial of Sacco and Vanzetti is discussed at length. But it's not

    a book about the historic events of '27 or a relating of the principle players and their doings, but rather an all-era-encompassing work that takes in the broad epic of America's strange, exciting, dangerous, and in the very least, interesting happenings.

    Bryson is a great storyteller. Here he does an excellent job in putting the reader into the time and place, giving you a feel for the general undercurrent of the people, the importance of an occurrence and its aftermath.

    But it's not all about 1927. What led up to the big happenings that year are just as important to the greater understanding of the thing, and Bryson sets the table admirably. He also placates the curious by giving us the epilogue of the major players and events of this time, so the reader gets that comforting closure.

    All in all,

    is a very satisfying way to endure a history lesson!

  • Matt

    There are some very obvious qualities to look for when choosing a history book. Accuracy is one thing. You want the facts to be factual. Analysis is another. You want there to be some meaning to the facts presented.

    Storytelling, though. Storytelling is the thing. And it’s hard to find.

    So often in my reading, I’ve found that narrative takes a backseat to academic qualities such as primary source sifting. It’s a shame, because I think storytelling is the paramount quality of a good history book.

    There are some very obvious qualities to look for when choosing a history book. Accuracy is one thing. You want the facts to be factual. Analysis is another. You want there to be some meaning to the facts presented.

    Storytelling, though. Storytelling is the thing. And it’s hard to find.

    So often in my reading, I’ve found that narrative takes a backseat to academic qualities such as primary source sifting. It’s a shame, because I think storytelling is the paramount quality of a good history book. Yes, factual facts are important. Yes, interpretation and analysis are important. But if you can’t tell a good story, why am I wasting my time? I’m a decade and more finished with school, so reading is a pastime, not a punishment.

    Bill Bryson is a storyteller, first and foremost. I’m not sure how he did his research for

    , but I’m guessing it didn't include a lot of digging in dusty libraries. A glance through the Notes and Bibliography shows a heavy reliance on secondary sources. Thus, the value here isn’t primarily on new discoveries or understanding; rather, it is found in Bryson’s ability to entertain while informing.

    is a garrulous slice of Americana. A series of snapshots in time. The calendar provides obvious structure, and each month is given a chapter, including September. (It must have been an Indian summer). Promotional material for the book claims that the 20th century became the American century during the Summer of ’27. This is a pretty ambitious (and questionable) assertion, and one that Bryson’s text does nothing to support.

    doesn’t have a thesis statement. It is content to be a fun read (though tackling some dark subjects).

    The May to June to July to August to September chronology provides the only narrative framework. This is the work of a talented raconteur. (I feel like I would heartily enjoy having a drink or ten with Bryson). It is a collection of unconnected stories that Bryson doesn’t make the slightest effort to stitch together. Instead, he is content to cover one subject and then jump to the next. It works because Bryson is a great writer working with good material.

    covers a lot of ground. Early on, aviation is the focus. Bryson covers the many attempts (some doomed) by aviators to win the Orteig Prize for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. Eventually, the prize went to a youngster from Minnesota named Charles Lindbergh. The fame he achieved was singular, intensely focused, almost unimaginable today in an age of fragmented media. For a moment, Lindbergh had almost the entire world at his feet (and clawing at his clothes, and rooting through his garbage). Bryson’s evocation of that weight on his shoulders is top notch.

    Perhaps the most packed category is crime. Bryson covers two trials in particular that captured national attention. One, the Snyder-Gray murder, has faded with the years. It has, however, left a gruesome remnant: an infamous picture of murderess Ruth Gray in the electric chair at Sing Sing. The other, featuring the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, is still argued over today. Bryson does a nice job of weighing the facts of the case and suggesting further reading. Since America was in the midst of Prohibition, Al Capone also gets his moment upon the stage. (I appreciated this. For as many gangster movies I’ve have consumed, I really didn't know squat about the historical Capone).

    I've hidden that picture of Ruth Snyder beneath the spoiler tag. It's not super graphic, but it's not puppies, either.

    Since this is ’27, the transcendent Yankees get their due. Bryson mostly follows the larger-than-life Babe Ruth. As with Lindbergh and Capone, Ruth at first seems too obvious a character to write about. I mean, what’s left to say about the Babe? Bryson is so skilled at delivering anecdotes that this never became a problem.

    How’s that for a word picture? (Please don’t ask how long I spent figuring out the mechanics of that little scene).

    In the political arena, Bryson gets the chance to highlight slightly more obscure personages. Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover is introduced after he is put in charge of relief efforts when the Mississippi flooded, submerging some 23,000 square miles. His achievements – actual and perceived – helped him snag the presidential nomination the following year. The man he replaced as Chief Executive was Calvin Coolidge. Silent Cal, as Bryson notes, is having a bit of a modern moment as the posthumous standard bearer for a certain strain of libertarianism. Coolidge spent the summer of 1927 doing what he did best: Next to nothing. Unless you count wearing a ridiculous cowboy hat while on a long vacation to be the best use of a president’s time. If so, then, Coolidge is our greatest president ever.

    I liked

    best when it covered people like Hoover and Coolidge, historical figures that I don’t know a lot about. Bryson certainly whetted my appetite to do further reading on both. Even with a well-known figure like Lindbergh, Bryson managed to present an interesting factoid or two that I had missed. I’ve read A. Scott Berg’s

    , which is widely regarded as

    Lindy bio. However, this is the first I’ve learned about Lindbergh’s many illegitimate children. Turns out he was the Robert Baratheon of early aviation!

    As I read through the various story arcs – space is also devoted to Al Jolson, boxing, flagpole sitting, and eugenics – I tried to discern a theme. I’m not sure one exists. If there is, I think it has to do with the intoxicating effects of a spectacle. Whether it was a salacious murder or a dude sitting atop a pole or a youngster piloting a rickety plane across the Atlantic, Americans showed an insatiable appetite for distraction.

    (Of course, this is hardly an American trait alone. Take the French. The French went just as insane over Lindbergh as the Americans. And in 1914, Parisians hardly noticed themselves thundering towards world war because they were so enraptured with the murder trial of Madame Caillaux. Obsession with spectacle is part of the human condition).

    is content to be an enjoyable, if not exactly memorable romp through the past. It does not have much to say beyond the story it is telling. I certainly thought Bryson's scope could have been expanded to include more viewpoints. To put it more bluntly, this is a book that is curiously race-free, to the extent that it talks at length about Al Jolson and

    without ever mentioning the rather mentionable fact that Jolson performed in blackface.

    With that said, this is not a sepia-toned trip down nostalgia lane. Bryson does not try to convince us that America in 1927 is some perfect moment to which we should all want to return. Indeed, his retelling of half-forgotten terrors – such as the bombing of the Bath School by frustrated taxpayer Andrew Kehoe, killing 38 elementary-school students – subtly reminds us that the past is never too far in the past.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Larry Bassett

    It has been a long time since I have read a Bill Bryson book so when I happened upon an opportunity to win an ARC of

    , I jumped at the chance. Bryson is nothing if not prolific. He cranks them out. C-SPAN’s Book TV has an eight minute interview with him about his most recent effort:

    Since I received the ARC of

    just a month before publication, I was not able to read the entire 448 page book prior to its publication. But I

    It has been a long time since I have read a Bill Bryson book so when I happened upon an opportunity to win an ARC of

    , I jumped at the chance. Bryson is nothing if not prolific. He cranks them out. C-SPAN’s Book TV has an eight minute interview with him about his most recent effort:

    Since I received the ARC of

    just a month before publication, I was not able to read the entire 448 page book prior to its publication. But I do want to say a few words about it even after publication since

    is, for me, a Blast from the Past with this summer of eighty-six years ago. Two central events of the book are the Lindbergh flight from NYC to Paris and Babe Ruth’s sixty home runs. The Prologue covers many of the unsuccessful efforts to fly between Paris and NYC. But many more events are covered in this three-ring circus of a book. The action never stops. It would be hard to say that many of these tabloid news events warrant so much attention so many decades later. However, the entertainment value is high. If you are a Bryson aficionado, you don’t want to miss this one.

    Bryson, you will not be surprised to hear, was not totally fixated on the year 1927. He covers some of the family history of Charles Lindbergh. He writes of the lives and presidencies of a snoozing Calvin Coolidge and a self-aggrandizing Herbert Hoover. Coolidge was actually President in 1927. As the Commerce Secretary Hoover was appointed the head of relief efforts in response to the unprecedented Mississippi River flood of 1927 during which the great river was in flood stage for over 150 days.

    U.S. population in 1927: 120 million

    U.S. v. Sullivan: 1927 Supreme Court case that established the legality of the IRS pursuing tax evasion charges against criminals for ill-gotten gains.

    The Spirit of St. Louis took off from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, NY at 7:52 am on May 20, 1927 and landed in Paris 33½ hours and 3600 miles later.

    Bryson detours from Lindbergh for a while to begin to tell us the story of the life of Babe Ruth who was born in 1895 leaving some distance to be covered before we arrive in the signature year of 1927. But even diversions have their own diversions in this homegrown history of many years rolled somehow into one. The segues from the Spirit of St. Louis to Shipwreck Kelly to The House that Ruth Built to radio coming of age are not always smooth.

    And as Babe Ruth is sold by the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, we slip nimbly into pages about New York City.

    Prohibition in the U.S. lasted thirteen years. One of those years was 1927 so Prohibition gets a chapter in the book. There is no lack of stories about Prohibition and Bryson tells many of them – poisons being added to some forms of alcohol and padlocked establishments having customers enter through the back door are a couple of examples. The phrase “giving a hand’ (applause) to an entertainer was allegedly coined during Prohibition and was probably uttered several times in the summer of 1927!

    You may think that with four seasons in a year, each would have three months. You will not be surprised, I am sure, to learn that for the purposes of his book Bill Bryson extended the summer of 1927 to five months – May through September. I can only wonder if, when asked about this, Bryson said, “So sue me!” The connections of the book to the summer of the title are not always self evident. You just have to go along for the ride.

    The flight of Commander Richard Byrd from New York to Paris weeks after Lindbergh is given some considerable attention although Byrd arrived in Paris by train since the plane was forced to land in the ocean along the coast of France. Evidence is given of serious misinformation given by Byrd and his chief pilot Bert Acosta about the trip; foremost is the fact that the co-pilot Bernt Balchen actually did almost all of the actual piloting as a result of the lack of skill of the pilot Acosta who knew nothing about flying on instruments, an integral part of the journey.

    Cramming events of other years into 1927 continued with abandon:

    If you like tabloid journalism and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” I can almost promise that you will like

    . Although it is somewhat long, it’s an easy read that seems determined to amaze and amuse. Frippery may be too strong a word but no one should expect too much of consequence from this book. The ARC I read was missing the bibliography and notes from the end, additions that may be of value to those who are interested in pursuing the historical aspects of the book. But I think you will likely find

    more entertaining than stimulating.

    More weak tangents to 1927: boxing and Fordlandia. Fordlandia was a failed Henry Ford development in Brazil in 1928. There were some well known boxing matches in that era, but, again, a summer 1927 connection is a stretch. But, hey, it’s just the title of the book so I probably shouldn’t be so demanding about the content as long as it is interesting. Much of it is interesting without dwelling overlong on many of the topics. We are talking blurbs here of a page or two for those with a short attention span. History in the form of birdshot.

    The August segment of the book leads off with a twenty page story of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian anarchists convicted of a payroll robbery and murder that occurred in Massachusetts in 1920 and culminated in their execution in August of 1927. After dipping briefly into the announcement of President Coolidge that he will not to run for re-election in 1928, we find ourselves in the story of the carving of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Zip, zip, zip. We move quickly.

    Silent films turned to talkies in the 1920s and Clara Bow morphed from the It Girl to the has-been because her voice just would not do on screen – “the vocal equivalent of nails on a blackboard.”

    Few difficult questions are asked in

    . However, one question directly related to the book was asked: “Were Sacco and Vanzetti innocent?” Bryson equivocates and vacillates. He names some who thought they were guilty and boldly states:

    For himself, Bryson says,

    He did not specifically note the positions of the tabloids that were often evidently a trusted source. This is one place I wish I had the final edition complete with notes. I am sure Bryson must have been more forthcoming there. But, here again, I am probably taking this book too seriously. It is not investigative journalism by any means. To call it “fluff” is too cruel for me but I am sure that some would use that appellation!

    In fairness I should note that serious consideration and topics are not totally absent from

    . In the section titled “Summer’s End,” the Ku Klux Klan and eugenics are examined in some detail. The information about the eugenics movement in the 1920s and 1930s is chilling. In 1927 a U.S. Supreme Court case (Buck v. Bell) was decided 8 to 1 in favor of eugenic sterilization.

  • Miranda Reads

    We travel forwards and backwards in history but all events converged to a significant moment during 1927. Unlike

    or

    where Bill Bryson looks into the full picture behind centuries of research, we have an account in extreme detail about regarding a single year.

    We have

    - a person whose fame started in 1927 and who'

    We travel forwards and backwards in history but all events converged to a significant moment during 1927. Unlike

    or

    where Bill Bryson looks into the full picture behind centuries of research, we have an account in extreme detail about regarding a single year.

    We have

    - a person whose fame started in 1927 and who's fame haunted him throughout the rest of his life. Picture mobs of fans that never dissipate. Funny, how such a popular man became only a footnote after nearly a hundred years.

    America became enraptured in the first big

    (Ruth Snyder murdered her husband and did an extremely poor job of covering it up).

    continues what he does best - smuggling booze and murder.

    does a incredible job with relief efforts from the Mississippi basin flood.

    There's so many fun micro-histories covered in this novel. They read somewhat like vignettes but he connected them so well that the full novel was completely cohesive. I hope that someday there will be a sequel of the same nature.

    Read by the author and it was a delight to listen to. He was so enthusiastic about his book - made it a lot of fun!

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