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One Summer: America, 1927 Kindle Edition
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The author does a wonderful job explaining the nineteen-twenties and the events that occurred during that notable summer. Besides Lindbergh becoming a national hero and enduring celebrity worship almost beyond comprehension, Mr. Bryson covers such momentous things as the aging Babe Ruth’s home run pursuit, the Mississippi flood of 1927, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, the novelty of radio, the birth of television, Prohibition, how the Federal Reserve helped set into play the coming Great Depression, the New York Yankees’ exceptional season, Henry Ford, the Jack Dempsey/Gene Tunney boxing match, the execution of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, the building of Mount Rushmore, the introduction of talking movies, Ponzi schemes, the Ku Klux Klan, train travel, Al Capone and corrupt Chicago, successful authors, racism, anti-Semitism, censorship, and eugenics. He also gives colorful backstories about the events and people covered that allows the reader to appreciate the importance of the situations. The author covers a lot of ground in the 456 pages (paperback edition.) ‘One Summer’ also highlights individuals who were all the rage in the early part of the twentieth century but have faded into obscurity. Fame sure is fickle. There are 16 pages of black-and-white photographs.
It’s always a joy reading Mr. Bryson’s work. Even gloomy topics such as eugenics are written with a certain amount of sarcastic playfulness. My guess is enough time has passed that we are not as sensitive to the author’s presentation about events way back in 1927 compared to if he tried writing in the same manner about something more recent such as 9/11 attacks. I intentionally waited to read ‘One Summer’ during the mentioned season. It added another layer of texture to the book. It was easy to appreciate Mr. Bryson’s descriptions of how the people endured the terrible heatwaves when I was reading during humid ninety-degree weather. Technology has certainly advanced quite a bit since 1927. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go kiss my air conditioner.
America had been suffered from abnormal weather in that summer. It rained steadily across much of the country, sometimes in volumes not before seen. Heat wave of summer was under way. The Great Migration, blacks’ moving out from the South, began soon after the Mississippi flood, which lead to keeping out immigrant movements. Eugenics was a minion theory in that era. Bryson notes the fact sterilization laws still remain on the books in twenty states today. Extraordinary weather forced the federal government to accept that certain matters are too big for states to handle alone. The birth of Big Government in America. The canyon like streets and spiky skyline was largely a 1920s phenomena. Holland Tunnel was opened in 1927. A Mount Rushmore project was begun on. Constructing Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam started. It was the same summer four men, from America, England, Germany, and French, gathered at the Long Island to discuss abolishing the gold standard. The result connected to the Great Depression. Calvin Coolidge presided over a booming economy and did nothing at all to get in the way of it.
The 1920s was a great time for reading. Reading remained as a principal method for most people to fill idle time. It coincide precisely with the birth of tabloid papers and huge popularity of book clubs. Plausibility was not something that audiences needed for in the 1920s. An immense pulp fictions were printed out in this era. Bryson picks up the Sash Weight Murder Case to illustrate this frenzy. It would be overtaken soon by the passive distraction of radio. Lindbergh’s return in triumph was in many ways the day that radio came of age. American spent one-third of all the money for furniture on radios. The nation’s joy and obsession was baseball at that time. Baseball dominated and saturated American life culturally, emotionally. It was that summer Yankees won the American League championship with a league record, and Babe Ruth banged out 60 home runs. Boxing was also a 1920s phenomenon. Jack Dempsey - Gene Tunny Fight were held at the summer’s end of that year. Americans were excited about every on-the-spot broadcast. Many people came to find the automobile an essential part of life. One American in six owned a car by the late 1920s. It was getting close to a rate of one per family. And it was in the summer of 1927 that Henry Ford embarked on the most ambitious, and ultimately most foolish venture, the greatest rubber-producing estate, Fordlandia.
The 1920s are dubbed as the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties, and the Era of Wonderful Nonsense. Musical performances were prospered. Big theaters had been constructed. It was a flourishing time for America, various cultural icons for American life style were created and introduced. American century began to blossom with full of life and energy. America’s winning the World War I exhibited it’s existence to the world. In 1927, Americans were not popular in Europe and not popular at all in France. The most striking things to a foreign visitor, arriving in America for the first time in 1927, was how staggeringly well-off it was. No other country they knew had ever been this affluence, and it seemed getting wealthier daily at a dizzily pace for them. It was the time TV started test broadcasting. Talkies began to take place of Silent Movies. Talking pictures were going to change the entertainment world thoroughly. It not only stole audiences from live theaters but also, and even worse, reaped talent. Who couldn’t speak English were kicked out from the industry. Through talkies America began to export American thoughts, attitudes, humor and sensibilities, peaceably, almost unnoticed. America had just taken over the world.
It was a time of Prohibition. It was a time of despair for people of a conservative temperament. The 1920s were also an Age of Loathing. More people disliked more other people from more directions and for less reason. There were subversive activities. Foreign workers who couldn’t get job were thought to be anarchy. It was not a good time to be either a radical or an alien in America, and unquestionably dangerous to be both. Bryson takes up the Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti case to explain the atmosphere in this era. The European economies were uniformly wrecked while America’s was booming. America was blamed for it’s indifference to other countries suffering economic difficulties. Rejecting foreign workers led to bringing out negative feeling from other countries. Before the summer ended, millions of French would hate America, and it would actually be unsafe to be an American on French street.
What did Lindberg’s success mean to American people. America has fallen behind from the rest of the world in every important area of technology in the 1920s. Lindbergh’s flight brought the world a moment of sublime, spontaneous, unifying joy on a scale never seen before for some unknowable reason. There would have been the gratifying novelty of coming first at something. America was suddenly dominant in nearly every field. In popular culture, finance and banking, military power, invention and technology, these center of gravity for the planet was moving from Europe to America. Charles Lindbergh’s flight somehow became the culminating expression of this. It is interesting to note Bryson counts as advantage for American fliers over European competitors is their using aviation fuel from California. It burned more cleanly and gave better mileage. It harbingers the coming oil century. It is impossible to imagine what was it about Charles Lindbergh and his 1927 flight to Paris that so transfixed the world in that summer. Bryson seems to have no interest about psychological analysis of heroes. He objectively piles up the facts from datas still remained. We are enthralled many times by accidental outcome resultant from connection between people and or tossed about by the tide. The greatest hero of the twentieth century was infinitely more of an enigma and considerably less of a hero than anyone had ever supposed. Alexis Carrel, a famous doctor at that time, provided Lindbergh with an enduring friendship and years of bad advice. Lindberg was invited to the Olympics in Berlin as a guest of the Nazis. He and his wife became unapologetic admirers of Adolf Hitler. People’s enthusiasm to Lindberg burnt out quickly and never returned. 1927 was substantially the first year of Showa in Japan. Showa actually started from the late December of the previous year. Ryuunosuke Akutagawa, a novelist, suicided from dimly obscured uneasiness in this year. It was an era militarism crept upon Japanese from the behind unnoticeably.
Top international reviews
Perspective is brought, complex relationships explained and sentiment enlivened in his hugely readable and highly digestible format.
There was a little too much baseball for someone like me who doesn’t get it and has no idea what the stats he cited meant – the historical significance of the game’s developments is, however, without doubt – and I learned things about Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh that make some of their achievements a little less palatable.
In short (and this is a hefty tome), the author manages to interweave all the salient strands of American life into a very enjoyable read, with great insight and much more entertainment than history books normally convey.
It's a long book, not much shorter in fact than A Short History of Nearly Everything, and whilst the latter deals with the history of, well, nearly everything, One Summer: America 1927 by comparison spans just, er, one summer. So naturally, the anecdotes it relays are somewhat more detailed and sometimes run the risk of feeling just a touch over-indulgent.
As I mentioned before though, the book is very entertaining, with some genuinely intriguing stories, which are given the trademark Bryson wit and sparkle. He takes an age which many of us have relegated to dusty black-and-white pictures and tinny gramophone music and brings it magically to life in vivid HD. The whole book vibrates with the energy and optimism of America at the peak of it's opulence and razzle-dazzle, along with the scandal and sensationalism that such an age naturally also generated.
I did at times find myself skipping across paragraphs however, something which I have never done with a Bryson book before. As a reader from the UK, one particular area that I just couldn't connect with was the lengthy passages regarding baseball and Babe Ruth's career. Perhaps if I understood the sport better I would have gotten more out of it, but the wordy descriptions of various games had me skipping whole pages of text. I do appreciate that this is a book about America, and as such, baseball is a huge and important part of American culture. However, in his previous books, I have always found Bryson to be meticulous about involving readers from both sides of the Atlantic, explaining concepts carefully if they are alien to one culture or another, and on this front I found the Babe Ruth sections curiously lacking in his normal care.
All in all, whilst I enjoyed the book and it kept me entertained enough to finish it, I feel that it falls below the standard of some of his earlier works.Whilst I would happily re-read all of his other books (and have done so), I don't think that I would be particularly inclined to tackle this one again.
We are all in to aviation so I know that the extra background to Lindberg and the first Atlantic crossings will be of interest, but finding out about quite what a monumental time it was in so many ways really was fascinating.
I'll read it again.
With the general insecurity of Americans, Bryson also takes the opportunity to ram home how the USA became, and remains, the 8th Wonder of the World. Duh!
...except for one thing, the last-named baseball, which is why I have given only four stars. I know little about baseball; I knew Babe Ruth was a baseballer, but I knew of Lou Gehrig only through the US name for Steven Hawking's motor neurone disease. The fine details into which Mr. Bryson (obviously an enthusiast) went were therefore totally lost on me, and I found myself skimming over them, because they meant nothing to me. And there was, in my opinion, rather too much of it. I'm surprised that Mr. Bryson, a long-time UK resident, would make such an error, but perhaps the book was aimed primarily at a US audience. As another reviewer has suggested, perhaps a glossary of baseball terms would have been good for the substantial chunk of the world that doesn't play the game.
Bryson's books fall into two broad categories: fact heavy and anecdotal. This is definitely one of the more fact-heavy of his books. I am not saying that as a bad thing, it is written in his usual witty and ironic style and he fleshes out the personalities involved in a way that brings them to life and makes you wish that you had Bryson for a history teacher.
The main topics that are covered in this book are the efforts of aviators of the time to fly across the Atlantic and the goings-on in the world of baseball. There are a number of other topics within the book - high profile crime cases, Al Capone, national flood emergencies, etc. but the baseball and the quest to cross the Atlantic seem to be the dominant topics ... of course that may just be my take on it given that I love aircraft, and find baseball to be incredibly dull so that those topics stand out for opposing reasons. That said, Bryson can make even a dull subject interesting, and baseball is an American obsession, but less baseball would probably have resulted in more stars from me.
If you enjoyed At Home and A Short History of Nearly Everything, and particularly if you enjoyed A Walk In The Woods, this book is for you. Not quite as laugh-out-loud as, for example, Neither Here Nor There or Notes From A Big Country, but there's still a guffaw or two hidden in the pages and this is very much the kind of book that will have you annoying your other half with random pieces of trivia.
There are some aspects of the book where Bryson is at his obscure fact filled best and there are some topics where all the warmth I have come to expect from his writing comes shining through but unfortunately it does not stretch to the whole book.
It appears that this was indeed a very important year, not just in American history but in world history too but I would, I think, have preferred single chapters or sections of the book to focus on the specific aspects rather than having them all interwoven. I appreciate that interwoven is how the incidents were in real life but it can make for a distracting read at time.
It certainly has not put me off buying more Bill Bryson books by any means and in fact I have another arriving this week which I anticipate not being able to read in public for fear of laughing out loud on a bus or train and thoroughly embarrassing myself
It is fascinating and a real eye opener to the age of prohibition, gangsters, the Model T Ford, the electric chair, apartheid, politics, pioneer aviation and baseball.
It is only with the latter that I have a problem which I'm sure I wouldn't if I were a US citizen. Mr Bryson does not explain the rules but he does explain the scoring averages for individual players and this is useful as the story unwinds and the Yankees steal the baseball scene. However, for seemingly endless pages Mr Bryson gives the averages for all the top Major League players. I presume he is an ardent fan of baseball. To an English person this means as much as if I were to write all the batting and bowling statistics for 1927 cricket, unintelligible to an American audience. I nearly docked a star because of it and my advice to all non-US people who are not intimate with baseball is to skip these pages as quickly as possible because they add nothing to the overall story.
A thoroughly good read in Mr Bryson's easy-going style and highly recommended.
This is popular history written with Bryson's characteristically infectious enthusiasm (I always imagine him as a kid rapt among the pages of an illustrated children's encyclopaedia) and with the deft touch of a master. His style is journalistic, but that is to praise not degrade it, for it is journalism of the highest quality.
Absent from Bryson's recent publications are the warm-hearted and humorous reflections on personal experience which are central to the enjoyment of his earlier travel books and his Thunderbolt Kid memoir. Impossible here as he is dipping into a period that preceded his own, but I hope he has not entirely abandoned his own life as material - there we see Bill Bryson at his incomparable best.
I'm so glad I bought it. How can a book with subject matter that is so fundamentally nerdy (historical anecdotes about sport and aviation, anyone?) be so compelling, so riveting? In many ways, I think Bryson manages this feat by doing what historians like Anthony Beevor and Max Hastings do: he makes dry historical events personal. I didn't give a stuff about 1920s baseball...until Bryson told me about the booze, the affairs, the money and the almost ridiculous dedication of a man who was determined to carry on playing top-level sport even though his physical infirmity meant he would die if he slept lying down.
My only issue with this book is that if you read it, you will constantly regale your loved ones with random facts and stats about the 1920s which, without the human perspective provided by Bryson's backstories, will bore your spouse, children, parents and podiatrist to death. Because of this book, I now live alone, and my feet are no longer as well-tended as they once were. However, I consider this a price worth paying and look forwards to Mr Bryson's next foray into social history.
The case he makes for Charles Lindbergh as the defining figure of the decade is plausible enough, given the developments in aviation which followed his pioneering. However, the author has become so enthused that the book almost becomes a biography of the flyer, distorting the balance, so that other influential figures such as Henry Ford, Edgar Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Babe Ruth, Al Jolson, etc are almost reached to supporting cast.
This impacts also on the Epilogue. Undeniably, Lindbergh's subsequent life was not short of incident but the desire to leave nothing out, however irrelevant to 2017, makes a very long book even longer.