ONE SUMMER: AMERICA 1927 BY BILL BRYSON
If all teachers made history as enjoyable as bestselling author Bill Bryson does here, we’d all be A+ students in the subject. In his latest fascinating book, Bryson takes us back to the hugely eventful summer of 1927 in the US. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. So many characters and stories from just a few hot months of one year impacted on almost everything to come and ushered in the modern world we now live in.
MAY saw unprecedented nationwide interest in a sensational murder trial dubbed “the crime of the century” and the Mississippi River flooded during great storms leaving an area almost the size of Scotland underwater. Terribly, a closer count was made of livestock deaths than those of the poor (and often black) humans that perished. It was America’s most epic disaster yet, in a month when the stock market boomed and prohibition was failing badly.
Young, handsome aviator Charles Lindbergh captured the hearts of the nation and beyond when he took 33 hours to fly across the Atlantic to Paris. Safely landed, he received a heroes welcome as he would everywhere he went for years to come. Hospitals, parks and children were named after him as was a song called “Lucky Lindy” which went on to spawn the Lindy-Hop dance craze.
In JUNE arguably the first celebrity shot to fame – baseball player Babe Ruth. Rising from a difficult background to become the charismatic undisputed star of Major League baseball. 1927 was “a year that no one who knew baseball would ever forget'” writes Bryson.
In other news radio was the wonder of the age, New York overtook London as the world’s largest city and prohibition continued to be farcical and inept. “It made criminals of honest people and actually led to an increase in the amount of drinking in the country,” notes our author. The government even poisoned liquor – some reports claiming this act killed as many as 11,000 people in 1927 alone – all dying in agony just for having a drink!
Temperatures in JULY reached dangerous heights of 91-100 across America at a time when President Coolidge was doing as little as possible – working for just 4 hours a day! July also saw the brutal rise of boxing as a popular spectator sport and the stock market continuing to boom.
Widespread industrial unrest, bombings and racial rioting shocked the States throughout AUGUST. Work also began on the bizarre idea of carving the heads of Presidents into Mount Rushmore.
“Bigotry was casual, reflective and well-nigh universal” in America by SEPTEMBER ’27. This was also the month where TV became a reality, where popular entertainment shifted from the theatres of Broadway to the silver screens of Hollywood and where pulp fiction “drivel” novels outsold Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald!
And of course 1927 was an exceptionally good year for 1920s poster boy and prohibition gangster Al Capone.
This is such a thoroughly researched book. I marvelled at the 16 page bibliography and the sheer man hours and leg work Bryson must’ve have committed to telling the story of this thrilling summer. By the final pages I felt like maybe I knew a little too much about baseball and aviation!
Most interestingly for me was how he charted the rise and fall of America’s great men – the most spectacular nosedive going to Charles Lindbergh’s fall from grace (not in a plane!).
Bill Bryson is a great raconteur. He writes in a charming, witty, conversational tone that never lectures but still leaves us in full possession of all the facts. Great stuff as expected.
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10
Author of bestselling travel books
- Has also written books on the history of science, Shakespeare and his own hilarious childhood memoir.
- Bill was born in Mid-West America but now lives in the UK