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A helluva summer

One summer: America, 1927

Title: One summer: America, 1927
By: Bill Bryson

Bryson has done it again; a masterpiece of research and fun.

One Summer: America 1927 doesn't have the belly laughs of A Walk in the Woods, but with his wry communication of the delightfully absurd, nonsensical, or totally awesome, he brings four months in our history under the microscope and asks us to share with him the eccentricities, the foibles, and the seminal events that made us, US. It is a robust nation he depicts, in its hero worship, its fears, its hates, and its obsessions.

Charles Lindbergh's remarkable flight led the summer off. While America had a few barnstorming acrobats, Europeans dominated the air. This untaught natural flyer decided to fly across the Atlantic to Paris, thus moving into hero status far beyond the dreams of any modern day rock star. Millions of fans, both here and abroad, swarmed his appearances and made this bashful hero's life in the ensuing months a relative nightmare. But his tour across America that summer did more to advance American aviation than his flight to Paris.

It was also the summer of Sacco and Vanzetti and the anarchists, the murder and trial of the husband killers (later filmed as Double Indemnity), and an eminently forgettable do-nothing President Coolidge. It was the summer of baseball heroes: Babe Ruth with his voracious appetites and his off- and -on buddy Lou Gehrig, bashful and preternaturally attached to his mother. Prohibition was at its height, and Al Capone and Charles Ponzi were hard at work with their illegal machinations. The greatest financial minds of two continents made the fatal decision that set in motion the Great Depression. It was the golden age of picture palaces; over 800 feature films were released from Hollywood that year. Sadly, it was also the age of loathing: bigotry and the Ku Klux Klan were rampant, and eugenics a newfound "science."

Bill Bryson must keep a team of fact checkers employed, or else he doesn't sleep much. We know from At Home, A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words that his keen mind is profoundly curious. His writing enlivens the most obscure details, this time of a vigorous nation with occasional inglorious moments. Bryson writes, "It was a helluva summer." This is a must read for anyone interested in our history.

View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction

Posted by libwolf on Aug. 10, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.


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