One Summer: America 1927

By Bill Bryson

Rating: 4 stars

In this book, Bryson’s aim is to show us how much went on in the summer of 1927, and his thesis is that this was an astonishing summer for America, where world-changing events all collided. It makes for a very entertaining read, but I’m not entirely sure that I agree that 1927 was as extraordinary a summer as he makes out. I’m sure that cases could be made for other years, other seasons and other countries, but this is the year that Bryson has chosen and I’m happy go with him on the trip through it. Starting from June of that year, he picks a couple of major players, Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth, and winds the rest of the narrative around them. That’s not to say that they dominate the book, but Bryson uses them as touchstones and jumping off points to discuss other events.

Something that this book does get across is just how different a world that America of 1927 was. This is a world before television, where even radio is only just emerging as a medium. Prohibition is in full swing and eugenics is a respected science. There were literally thousands of newspapers and millions would turn out to see a man who had flown an aeroplane across the Atlantic ocean.

Bryson also touches on the somewhat random nature of celebrity and notoriety as he describes the vast amount of newspaper attention given to the sash weight murder case, which was dull and obvious compared to other crimes of the era, but seemed to completely grip the nation.

Babe Ruth is one of the two principal protagonists of the narrative, and while I was interested in the earlier segments, describing his youth and personal life, the latter segments are mostly breathless recitals of numbers, apparently related to baseball. As someone who has little interest in sport and no knowledge of baseball, this left me a little cold. It’s a good thing, then, that the other principal of the book, Charles Lindbergh, has a more interesting story.

Bryson writes with a light touch and witty, engaging style that makes this book easy to read (excepting the sporting numbers) and it succeeds as a narrative history covering a single summer in a single country. Its importance for me lies in the fact that that country was America and this book goes some way to describing events that made America the confident leader of the world that it became during the 20th century.

Book details

ISBN: 9780552772563
Publisher: Black Swan
Year of publication: 2013

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