Tuesday, February 11, 2014
One Summer - Bill Bryson
I've read and enjoyed a lot of Bill Bryson's books, but his latest, One Summer: America, 1927 is my favorite by far. Much as I enjoy his travel memoirs (A Walk in the Woods remains an all-time favorite book), I love history even more, and in this book he tells the stories and backstories of a most remarkable summer.
This was the summer when Lindberg flew solo across the Atlantic, when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig slugged it out along with those amazing Yankees, and when Sacco and Vanzetti were executed without a shred of evidence against them. It was the summer Al Capone ruled Chicago, before being indicted for tax evasion, the Mississippi River flooded,and Calvin Coolidge started wearing a cowboy outfit. It was a time of speakeasies and Prohibition, talkies were on the cusp, and Broadway was booming.
I loved every minute I spent reading this fascinating book. You get the feeling that Bryson had an absolute ball doing the research--the glee with which he points out incongruities is infectious--and you get the feeling he really did do his research. He quotes newspaper articles, magazine articles, advertising slogans, and letters. I loved the focus on one period of time as a way of putting into context the passions, interests, hopes and dreams of a generation. He balanced political history with social history, and the narrative never lagged or dragged.
Much as I enjoyed At Home, which I listened to a couple of years ago, I do think One Summer is the stronger book and I really can't wait to see what will be the next topic Bryson tackles.