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The Nearly Reader

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One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson

One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson

From Goodreads: 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 ordert


I love Bill Bryson's travelogues. I first picked up In a Sunburnt Country when I was in college (and obsessed with Australia) and instantly fell in love with the mix of facinating facts about science and history and everything in between and Bill Bryson's sidesplitting sense of humor. My most vivid memory of reading In a Sunburnt Country is nearly giving myself a stroke from trying not to laugh out loud too wildly while reading a passage of Bryson falling asleep in the car during his travels.


So far though, I have been less than impressed with Bill Bryson's non travel writing. His childhood memoir was enjoyable and his other books were interesting enough but there was something missing. So I went into One Summer with guarded expectations. 


Although there were not any laugh out loud, probably shouldn't read this in public, moments, I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. I'm not much of a history buff, so I had no idea how much stuff went on during such a short amount of time. A lot of the people involved with the events I had heard of, but not in a very detailed way so it was nice to actually get a better idea of who they actually were and why they were so significant in history.


I was very satisfied with this read, and I think it would be a good starting point for someone wanting to explore history a bit more. I can't say it was a quick read (because there was so much to process throughout) but something that would be worth the investment.