One Summer America, 1927

3 Jul

“Oh, a sleeping drunkard
Up in Central Park,
And a lion-hunter
In the jungle dark,
And a Chinese dentist,
And a British queen–
All fit together
In the same machine.”

-Kurt Vonnegut  Cat’s Cradle

Vonnegut wasn’t referring to Bill Bryson’s One Summer America, 1927 when he penned those lines, but they capture the spirit of Bryson’s book.  There are no Chinese dentists or British queens, but the book covers a whole lot of people who  influenced American life during the summer of 1927.  Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Henry Ford, Clara Bow, Sacco and Vanzetti, Jack Dempsey, and Al Capone are only some of the figures that Bryson explores in his book.

Bryson has a knack for researching a topic, then taking the contents of his research and weaving a kind of narrative.  He has chosen the summer of 1927, we suppose, because a number of remarkable events occurred that summer, not the least of which are Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, and Babe Ruth’s and Lou Gehrig’s copious number of home runs.  In addition, Prohibition was in full swing, and the summer also saw a meeting of four bankers who unwittingly laid the groundwork for the Great Depression of 1929.

One thing we like about the book is that Bryson often takes a much-revered figure such as Henry Ford and depicts the person in a human light. Far from being the far-sighted industrialist of legend, Bryson shows Ford to have been an adequate engineer but a less-than-stellar business man who was almost willfully ignorant, anti-Semitic, cruel to his son Edsel, and a bit of a crackpot.  On the other hand, Ford employed people with disabilities, ex-convicts, and epileptics (at a time when epileptics were shunned.)  Bryson gives the other figures he covers in the book a similar even-handed, warts-and-all depiction.

In short, we enjoyed the book.  If you seek an engaging read, One Summer America, 1927 fits the bill nicely. We aren’t related to the author and we’d don’t own stock in the publisher, so consider the source.

One Summer America, 1927

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