Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson (audio)

I got to hear Bill Bryson read from this book last month at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville! I am a huge fan, and knew right away I was going to read this book. I really enjoyed Bryson's Shakespeare biography on audio (with him reading it) so I decided to go that route again. Bryson's slight British accent was perfect for Shakespeare. It's not quite perfect for a book that is so very American, but it still worked for me. I do wish he made more of an effort when reading quotations. I don't need for him to come up with a different voice for each person who speaks, but I was rarely sure when a quotation ended, which sometimes could be discombobulating.

As always, Bryson is chock full of random facts (one could even argue that random facts is the entire point of this book.) He did start off to write a joint biography of Charles Lindbergh and Babe Ruth, but when he really got into the research he found just so many fascinating things that happened in 1927 that he expanded his topic to cover the summer (well, more like six months.) Calvin Coolidge decided not to run for reelection. Work on Mount Rushmore was begun. Al Capone was at the height of his power (and he was only 25! When he was taken down he was just 27 and had only been in power for a little over two years!) Sacco and Vanzetti were put to death. Television was invented. Along the way Bryson caught us up in what was going on in so many areas of American culture, from books to movies to radio to economics. I found it endlessly interesting. Others who like books to stay more focused and on-topic might not care to know about the "trial of the decade" and Prohibition and Fordlandia, but I of course just love the diversions, almost better than the primary narrative. Not that Bryson is simply looking at the frippery and fun of the era--he does also look at whether or not Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty, the KKK, and eugenics.

But he never loses the fun. These negative events only serve to emphasize how exciting and spine-tingling it must have been to live in such an era of discovery and exploration. I really did appreciate the epilogue which told us how Lindbergh and Ruth in particular (and many, many others) ended up, but by the end I really felt I understood what it must have felt like to live in 1927. What a great concept, and I would love to read more books focused on a single year in history.

I downloaded this book from Audible.

1 comment:

Anne@HeadFullofBooks said...

I didn't know that Bryson wrote another book so I will look for it. I liked listening to him read Shakespeare, and The Short History of Everything. I will order it from the public library.