Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America in 1927 invites you to the party. Bryson narrates the major historical events of that summer (and there were a lot of them), weaved together loosely with aviation (Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight and its aftermath are recurring motifs) and law and order (multiple murders and executions, including that of the controversial Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti). The book has a freewheeling feel to it that perfectly captures the 1920s and the decade’s major influences. Lindbergh’s nascent airplane with limited forward visibility, propelling through uncharted air. Babe Ruth’s sixtieth home run, hit off Tom Zachary’s arm, hurtling past the outfield. The ingenuity of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, deciding to tax gangsters for their ill-gotten gains.
Bryson manages to give an open, unapologetic view of the 20s. This book is neither deluded nor disillusioned, celebrating the optimism of an era where the sky was literally the limit while acknowledging the very real flaws (see: Prohibition, when the government would rather poison its citizens than let them have a drink), as well as hinting at the horrors to come. The book captures a feeling of mania, and that was fascinating to read. So much happened in 1927, that it’s easy to see how intoxicating that summer might have been for American citizens – metaphorically, of course.
I really enjoyed this book. It took a chapter for it to grab me, but when it did, I didn’t want to put it down. This is the first Bryson book I’ve read, but if his prose is always this witty (and his other subjects as engrossing), I will definitely be looking into more of his books.
This review has been cross-posted to the Cannonball Read, where I am reviewing books as I attempt to read 52 in a year!