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One Summer: America, 1927 Hardcover – October 1, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, October 2013: It’s amazing what a talented writer at the top of his game can do with a seemingly narrow topic. The title of Bill Bryson’s latest sums up the simplicity of his task: to document the “most extraordinary summer” of 1927, beginning with Charles Lindbergh’s successful flight across the Atlantic. Even though we know many of these stories--Lindbergh’s flight, Babe Ruth’s 60-homerun season, the Mississippi River flood, Al Capone’s bullet-ridden reign over Chicago--in Bryson’s hands, and in the context of one amazing summer of twentieth-century ingenuity and accomplishment, they feel fresh, lively, and just plain fun. The book is so jammed with “did you know it” nuggets and fascinating origin stories (the opening of the Holland Tunnel, the first Mickey Mouse prototype, the source of the term “hot dog”), the effect is like sitting beside a brilliant, slightly boozy barstool raconteur, who knows a little bit about everything. From a tabloid murder trial to a flagpole-sitting record to the secret origins of the looming Great Depression, One Summer offers a new look at a transitional period in history, re-introducing us to such characters as Capone, Jack Dempsey, Al Jolson, Charles Ponzi, and Herbert Hoover. Ultimately, this is a book about the moment when important things, for good or ill, began happening in the US. With a giddy narrative voice and keen eye for off-kilter details, Bryson has spun a clever tale of America’s coming of age. --Neal Thompson
*Starred Review* On May 21, 1927, when Charles Lindbergh set off to be the first man to cross the Atlantic alone in an airplane, he profoundly changed the culture and commerce of America and its image abroad. Add to that Babe Ruth’s efforts to break the home-run record he set, Henry Ford’s retooling of the Model T into the Model A, the execution of accused anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, and Al Jolson appearing in the first talkie, and 1927 became the pivot point when the U.S. began to dominate the world in virtually everything—military, culture, commerce, and technology. Bryson’s inimitable wit and exuberance are on full display in this wide-ranging look at the major events in an exciting summer in America. Bryson makes fascinating interconnections: a quirky Chicago judge and Prohibition defender leaves the bench to become baseball commissioner following the White Sox scandal, likely leaving Chicago open for gangster Al Capone; the thrill-hungry tabloids and a growing cult of celebrity watchers dog Lindbergh’s every move and chronicle Ruth’s every peccadillo. Among the other events in a frenzied summer: record flooding of the Mississippi River and the ominous beginnings of the Great Depression. Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known. A glorious look at one summer in America. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Bryson is the author of such best-selling books as A Walk in the Woods (1998) and A Short History of Nearly Everything (2008) and is sure to make a repeat appearance on the best-seller lists with his newest work. --Vanessa Bush
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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.
History has blurred and made mythological our idols and heroes. Bryson demystifies and sheds light on times past that reflect so much of today. So much is common for today... Hoover, for example, was so intent on self-aggrandizement, he made certain newspapers got press releases of any of his activities. If anyone wrote anything uncomplimentary, he'd retaliate with long winded criticisms.
The book is well written, as any Bryson book is, and it left me feeling I was now an insider to our history and, now, cannot be surprised at the antics of our leaders.
Bill Bryson, as an American writer, is a national treasure. Here in ONE SUMMER, he captivates once again with a narrative of the events that took place in the United States during the period May to September of 1927. Many of the backstories, e.g. the history of pioneering airplane flights, the ostensible criminal activity of Sacco and Vanzetti, or the evolution of motion pictures with dialogue (“the talkies”) of course extend back further into earlier years; Bryson tells these backstories without necessarily anchoring them in a definitive timeframe. It’s their culmination in the hot months of 1927 that fascinates him and the reader.
There’s a certain hierarchy of events and personalities. At the top of the pyramid are Charles Lindbergh and his trans-Atlantic flight followed by his triumphant tour of America. Next down, and very close, is the remarkable summer played by Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees. Then, there are all the other events and characters - plus others - alluded to by the author himself in the quote at the beginning of this review. As in all of Bryson’s works, the fun of the read is in the wealth of details and the gentle humor with which he often regards them.
“(Al) Jolson was not an adorable person. His idea of a good joke was to urinate on people, which may go some way to explaining why he had four wives and no friends.”
“Illinois imposed no restrictions on the sale of tommy guns, so they were available to the general public in hardware stores, sporting goods stores, and even drugstores. The wonder is that the death tolls in Chicago weren’t higher.”
For the reader, the content of ONE SUMMER perhaps compels one to frequently detour to Wikipedia to get even more information about an interesting personality. Perhaps that’s why it took me so long to read the book!
ONE SUMMER includes a 14-page photo section that is suitably all-encompassing plus an “Epilogue” chapter that wraps up nicely what needs to be wrapped-up.
ONE SUMMER is about as satisfying a read as I could hope for.