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.Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
The Iowa-born, England-based Bryson, whose works range from language to science to genial travelog, here returns home with a truly focused treatment of a time when America made a crucial leap to the world stage. The players range from Charles Lindbergh to Al Capone, so it's not all heroics.[Page 54]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
The summer of 1927 offers the prolific Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) a prepared canvas on which to paint a narrative of well-known, unknown, and little-known events and personalities of the Twenties. Loosely organized around three summer months that included, among many other things, major developments surrounding figures in aviation (Charles Lindbergh), baseball (Babe Ruth), boxing (Gene Tunney), criminal justice (Al Capone; Sacco and Vanzetti), and politics (Calvin Coolidge's "I do not choose to run" statement), Bryson's stories range back and forth into the rest of the decade and the era more broadly. The book's strength is in showing the overlap of significant events and the interaction of personalities. But the author's approach keeps the reader from gaining a real sense of the landscape; this is more a spatter painting. Scores of characters, both major and minor, come and go. Some return; others don't. The well-known story of Lindbergh's ambitious flight and its aftermath is one of the few consistent threads that can be followed in this free-for-all. Frederick Lewis Allen's 1931 narrative history of the decade, Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s, remains the classic that this volume can only aspire to match. VERDICT Most likely to appeal to Bryson fans and popular history buffs. [See Prepub Alert, 4/22/13.]--Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato[Page 123]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
"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.)[Page ]. Copyright 2013 PWxyz LLC