One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
At some point, Bill Bryson apparently became interested in something that happened during the summer of 1927, probably in relation to baseball, so he did what any good writer would do and went to the library to begin reading newspapers from that period. He quickly realized that apart from Babe Ruth’s amazing season, there were lots of other incredible things happening, not least of which was Lindberg’s first solo transatlantic flight.
You can see Bryson in action as a reader himself, as he drops hints about his methodology throughout the book: he alludes to headlines and how many pages were devoted to specific stories at specific times. When characters (known or unknown today) appear, he delves into the secondary literature to place them in context.
And we are persuaded. There is no doubt about it, crazy and amazing things were happening in the summer of 1927, and Bryson’s verve and prose make this popcorn history at its best. It’s accessible, fun, engaging, and at times genuinely insightful. And it even does something important: it gives a new perspective of a different time in our nation’s history.
Of course, with any historical snapshot like this the problem is that stories keep wandering out of the frame. We get, for instance, exposes of Coolidge and Hoover and their respective administrations, as well as clues and forecasts leading up to the stock market crash, but of course most of that action and context happens off screen, as it were. When it comes down to it, the only things that are firmly within the summer appear to be baseball and the immediate aftermath of Lindberg’s flight.
Some of the things Bryson covers consists of primarily context (like the advent of talking pictures and its influence) without any conclusion (like what happened with Ford’s Model A, which Ford had shut down all production in that summer in order to create). But all of that is fine, because Bryon’s not writing a historical treatise. He’s writing a story. A story about a single summer with tons of information, tons of fantastic characters, and his familiar vantage of being pleasantly delighted and bemused with everything he’s discovering.
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