Happy new year to you all! I have been continuing my recent spell of non-fiction reading over the Christmas holidays with Bill Bryson’s latest book ‘One Summer: America, 1927’, whose title is about as self-explanatory as it gets. As you might expect, it is indeed about the people and events which dominated the summer of 1927 in the United States of America. While it isn’t perhaps the most recognisably significant year in modern history in the same way that 1945 and 1989 are etched in the collective memory as turning points in the twentieth century, Bryson shows that this particular summer was a very important one in the social and economic history of the United States.
Despite the title, the book isn’t just about 1927. Much like his previous work ‘At Home: A Short History of Private Life‘ where the rooms of a typical house were used as a springboard for discussion around particular topics, Bryson takes the year 1927 and the key events of that particular summer as a starting point. His narrative skill is very impressive as he effortlessly weaves these stories together throughout the book whilst covering topics ranging from the impact of prohibition, Italian anarchists, aviation, boxing, baseball, Al Capone, the Great Mississippi flood, cinema, the Snyder murder trial, Ford’s Model T car and much more.
Consequently, Bryson outlines a lot of background information about key figures of the era such as the aviator Charles Lindbergh, the baseball player Babe Ruth and President Calvin Coolidge in order to provide context for the significant events they were involved in. The book is very much an overview of what was happening in that year so I can see how Bryson’s meandering style crossing lots of different subjects wouldn’t appeal to everyone, particularly more serious historians who might prefer more detail and analysis about specific events. However, that’s not to say that the book isn’t well researched, which it undoubtedly is, as proven by the extensive bibliography.
Unsurprisingly, Bryson’s characteristic dry sense of humour is less prominent in his history books than it is in his travel memoirs. However, he is as brilliant as ever at making obscure and not-so-obscure topics engaging to read about. For example, as a Brit, I have no knowledge or interest in the history of baseball beyond Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons, but Bryson really brings to life the characters and events of the era such as Babe Ruth’s rise to fame.
For the general non-fiction reader, ‘One Summer: America, 1927’ is an entertaining, interesting and informative look at a pivotal season in the history of the United States. Highly recommended for fans of Bill Bryson’s other books and anyone with an interest in the 1920s.