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. Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-08-05
- Reviewer: Staff
“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. (Oct.)
A summer to remember
A new book from Bill Bryson is always a cause for excitement, and this beautiful doorstopper truly delivers. Bryson’s wonderfully sly sense of humor and narrative skill are evident in this expansive look at a momentous season in U.S. history: the summer of 1927.
We meet “Slim” (Charles Lindbergh), fresh from his transatlantic flight and on the cusp of becoming a national hero, and the irrepressible Babe Ruth, who is about to have the best summer of his career. Loony politicians—William Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover—and unforgettable criminals round out the cast. What the book does best is to take these stories we already know and explain them to us again, with lots of brio and context. Sure, you think you know about Babe Ruth. But have you really considered why his ability to hit a home run was so thrilling, and how the then-established baseball rules shaped his game? You’ve heard of Charles Lindbergh, but have you heard about the dozens of others who tried to do what he did and failed miserably? Do you know why aviation was such a crazy line of work? The stories Bryson tells almost beg to be shared.
One Summer is divided into months of the summer—June, July, August and September—and each month focuses on a key figure of interest to Bryson. Honestly, I’ve never read a narrative history quite like it. The summer itself—rather than any single person or movement—is the focus of the book, and all sorts of interesting glimpses forward and backward keep the season’s significance clearly at the fore. There’s something refreshing in this approach, like touring Rome for 10 days instead of trying to cram in all of Europe.
Beyond learning unusual facts about famous people (like Calvin Coolidge’s bright red hair, or that he wasn’t a favorite with his mother-in-law), readers get something even better: a distinctive taste of the times. I’m sure people well versed in history might note that this “highlight reel” of 1927 excludes the stories of those not blessed with tremendous skill and timing—people more like us. Still, the book is a sprawl of tremendous fun that will satisfy Bryson’s fans and win him many new ones.