Saturday, October 21, 2017

Non-Fiction Review: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
First published in 2013
456 pages (plus bibliography)
My rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Short Of It:

If you're interested in the 1920s, this book is for you!

The Long Of It:
"One Summer" transports readers back to the Roaring '20s in Bill Bryson's signature fascinating and accessible writing style. This narrative non-fiction book is far from dry -- Bryson manages to dig up the juiciest, most interesting long-forgotten tidbits -- but it's also extremely educational and I learned a ton about a time in history that's always captivated me.

While the title mentions 1927, and Bryson definitely covers all the events, large and small, that happened that summer, the book is really about the '20s as a whole -- an era, we learn, that really helped shape America into what it is today.

Aviation and baseball are themes woven throughout the entire book, and Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth are perhaps Bryon's "main characters." In the summer of 1927, Babe Ruth was on his way to a home run record that would stand for decades, and Charles Lindbergh became the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic and spent the summer on a tour of America.

We learn about Hollywood and the transition from silent movies to talkies. We learn of the rather shameful history of eugenics in America (Charles Lindbergh was a big supporter, incidentally). We learn about the rise of the sport of boxing, the use of the electric chair for executions, the creation of Mount Rushmore, oddball president Calvin Coolidge and hardass future president Herbert Hoover, the "sash weight murder" that enthralled the nation in 1927, the secret meeting of four world finance leaders that precipitated the stock market crash, the great Mississippi River flood, Sacco and Vanzetti, and so very much more.

Bryson includes so much interesting information in his book that, towards the end, I wished I'd started taking notes in the beginning so I could easily look back on everything I'd learned. There were several passages that so intrigued or surprised me that I had to read them aloud to my husband. And though the events in "One Summer" happened 90 years ago, many things are quite relevant to current issues in our country at this moment. Talking bad about the U.S. -- to say nothing of kneeling during the national anthem -- was a highly punishable offense under the Sedition Act of 1918. And many Americans back then despised not only blacks but Jews, Italians, Irish, Asians, Eastern Europeans and Catholics. We tend to think of the U.S. as the savior of the Jews in WWII, but Jews were highly discriminated against in America, too. With the tense political and social climate of 2017, it's interesting to look back and see how far we've come in equality and acceptance -- though, obviously, not far enough.

The first half of the book moved a little slowly for me and I actually set it down for several weeks; perhaps I just wasn't in a non-fiction mood. But when I picked it back up, I blew through the last 250 pages in three days. I was completely enchanted by Bryson's immersive and extremely well-researched portrait of 1927. If you're interested in American history or the 1920s, or you'd like to find out how our summer in 2017 compared with the summer that happened exactly 90 years ago, I highly recommend "One Summer"!

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