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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

One Summer: America, 1927

One Summer: America, 1927 - Bill Bryson

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana

 

So why don't we all learn and/or remember more of the past in order not to repeat it?  Because history as taught by schools or in academic tomes is boring!  Mind-numbing, coma-inducing boredom!

 

But history told in a narrative style, tied to historical popular events that might not have historical significance in a political sense?  Now we're on to something far more interesting.  Something far more likely to hold a reader's attention and achieve a far higher rate of retention.

 

Enter Bill Bryson.  He writes a lot of witty, interesting and well-researched travel essays about places near and far, but he really made a fan of me with "A Short History of Nearly Everything".  I've enjoyed those travel essays, but I really appreciated on an intellectual level his books on science, history and biography.  His writing style is the kind I can lose myself in, and I find even the boring bits (to me) are made more interesting.

 

When I first heard about One Summer: America, 1927 I immediately jumped on the pre-order button.  I'm an 'oops' child (my mother maintains that, at 45 years old, I was more of a "are you effing kidding me?!?!" child)  to parents born in the 1920's.  I grew up hearing stories about Al Capone, bootlegging, Lindbergh, WWII, and the Great Depression.  My grandparents were immigrants from Italy.  Lots and lots of things that made this book appeal to me immediately. 

 

One Summer, logically, focusses on the Summer of 1927, when everything seemed to be happening at once; the United States (and the world) sat on the precipice of major, violent, change.  It truly sounds like it was a magical summer to be alive, and perhaps, more than a little shameful a time as well.

 

The book's sections are titled The Kid, The Babe, The President, The Anarchists and Summer's End.  If you're like me, you would be expecting each section to focus on one person in particular:  The Kid; Charles Lindbergh, The Babe; Babe Ruth, etc.  You would not be entirely correct.  Each person or group is more or less introduced in their section but their stories are interwoven throughout the book - which makes sense if you're looking at the summer chronologically.  The only drawback to this is that I'd find myself up to my eyes in Babe Ruth's exploits and eager to find out what happens next,  and suddenly we're talking about Calvin Coolidge or Lindbergh or any one of the other major players of that summer.  And there were a lot of major players that summer.

 

The book jacket and the sections mention Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, and Anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti.  But Henry Ford, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, and a score of others played bit parts and starring roles that summer, including four bankers from around the world that met secretly that summer and made decisions that would inadvertently lead to the Stock Market Crash and The Great Depression.

 

All of this, Bill Bryson manages to weave into an interesting narrative story that leaves you wanting to know 'what happens next?!?'  Do not mistake this book for a nostalgic "wasn't the past so grand?" trip down memory lane;  Bryson doesn't hold back with the bad things that happened that summer - the executions, the bigotry, the mass hysteria, America's eugenics policies.  This is a nicely balanced snapshot of a rapidly changing society.  History isn't just about politics, wars, and the balance of power; it's also about society, culture, beliefs, sports, technology, books and movies.  Oh! and the Babe!

 

Overall, I enjoyed this book from beginning to end - I took the half-star away only because I struggled with the jumping around a bit.  Plus, honestly, I just never found Lindbergh that interesting.  I think anyone who enjoys history, popular culture and a narrative style over dry facts and figures would enjoy reading this book.