A Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book
A GoodReads Reader's Choice
In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.
The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
If only all history lessons could be as fun as Bill Bryson’s gleefully informative survey of the events making headlines in the summer of 1927. Many of the stories Bryson recounts in vivid detail—and with the bemused, witty detachment of an omniscient narrator—are permanently etched in our collective consciousness, including Charles Lindbergh’s audacious trans-Atlantic flight and Babe Ruth’s jaw-dropping personal and athletic exploits. In other cases, Bryson shines a light on amazing events that have receded into the dusty corners of history, from the Great Flood—which submerged 16.5 million acres over several states and left almost 650,000 homeless—to the actions of Mabel Walker Willebrandt, a housewife-turned-lawyer who pioneered the strategy of prosecuting criminals for tax evasion, thereby sealing Al Capone’s fate. Bryson brilliantly captures a giddy, precarious, and thrilling moment in U.S. history—a time when America seemed like the place where the biggest, wildest dreams really could come true.
People in 1920s America were unusually drawn to spectacle, states Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) in his prologue an unusual claim that his latest, a sprawling account of a brief period in a singular year in that decade, seems to want to substantiate. Whether or not the claim is objectively true, Bryson himself is captivated by the events of summer, 1927. And why not? They included Charles Lindbergh s solo flight over the Atlantic, Sacco and Vanzetti s execution, Gutzon Borglum s start on the sculpting of Mt. Rushmore, the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, and Babe Ruth s 60 home runs all of which Bryson covers in characteristically sparkling prose. These notable happenings are worth relating and recalling, but others have done so, and more authoritatively and fully. Here, there s not much connection between them; a string of coincidents (and there are many of those each day) hardly justify a book. So this isn t history, nor is it really a story with a start, finish, and thematic spine. No analysis, only narrative it s diverting but slight.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This was a very fine read about an important era in America's history. Bryson does a great job of tying stories together with interesting facts.
One Summer America 1927
Bill Bryson writes with a droll humor that makes just about any topic or tangential topic very interesting and of course it's filled with laugh out loud passages
One Summer by Bill Bryson
Simply superb. I'm reading it slowly because I never want to finish it. Take away #1: there have always been crackpot extremists in American politics, and they have always made bad decisions (compare the Tea Party to the Anti-Saloon League, for example).