One Summer by Bill Bryson Book Review
In One Summer, author Bill Bryson recounts an in-depth look at a single summer in American history, 1927. With an extremely wide range of topics, lots of backstory, and many follow ups to cover where the events of the summer led. I’ve decided a more appropriate title for the book would be One Summer Plus a Decade in Each Direction. The story doesn’t actually cover two decades but at times it certainly felt like it. It was, in turns, fascinating and deathly boring. The information is certainly overwhelming, especially on the topics that I knew little to nothing about. Yet, at other times (mostly in the second half) there were parts that really captured my interest.
Some of the Topics covered:
Aviation race and Charles Lindbergh
Henry Ford and the Model T
Babe Ruth and the Yankees
Famous murders throughout the 20’s, including murderer Ruth Snyder
Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly who sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days
Lead-up to the Great Depression
Jack Dempsey and the popularity of boxing
The rise of “talkies” and the “The Jazz Singer” was released
The creation of Mount Rushmore
Invention of death by electrocution (and its failures)
Uprise of television and popularity of radio
As an avid reader of fiction, this nonfictional account of history often threatened to lull me to sleep. As I listened to the book on audiotape, I can assure you that if I had been reading it on paper, I never would have finished it. There was simply not enough to keep me interested for the long run, not enough hints at what was to come and not enough cliff hangers.
I would have preferred the multiple story lines to interweave more throughout the plot, as they did in real time. The beginning consisted of large chunks of a single event and its backstory, which failed to keep me interested. Near the end of the novel the story lines do interweave more, but if Bryson had incorporated that throughout, I would have been more intrigued. I also never got a grip on what order these events occurred. Sure, we got a lot of dates, but unless I had made myself a timeline, I could not piece that together mentally.
“So as July dawned on America, in the week that Richard Bird and his team splashed down in France, that New York suffered its first heat wave, that Calvin Coolidge celebrated his 55th birthday by dawning cowboy apparel, that Charles Lindberg took off for Ottawa, that Henry Ford’s minion prepared his apology to Jews, and that the world’s leading central banker was assembled in secret conclave in Long Island, the story that preoccupied the nation was how fit and eager Jack Dempsey was.”
This quote struck me because of one simple fact: same then as today, the media will focus on what the people are interested in, not what is most impactful on the world/economy/ect.
Bryson clearly gathered a lot of his information from newspaper archives as he often cited the large city newspapers. He often referred to what was on the front cover of the New York Times as well as took direct quotes from various articles. Newspapers are surely a good source of what is consuming the majority but its not always accurate or objective and I tried to keep this in mind while reading Bryson’s account of history.
I would recommend One Summer to any and all history buffs, specifically people interested in aviation, Charles Lindberg, baseball, and Babe Ruth. Although the topic and writing style of the book were not of my particular interest, it was well-written and sure to be a big hit for individuals interested in said topics. 3 stars.
Posted on September 22, 2014, in Book Review and tagged 1920s, 1927, aviation, babe ruth, baseball, bill bryson, book review, charles lindberg, henry ford, historical nonfiction, history, jack dempsey, new york times, nonfiction, one summer, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.