Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Whatever else it was, it was one hell of a summer

Back in the beginning of July when Tom and I were in Seattle, we made our way to an indie bookstore (you know OBV) and I found out that Bill Bryson's latest book, One Summer: America 1927 was out in paperback. So I had to pick up a copy. I got around to finishing it by the end of July and now it's September and I'm finally reviewing it.  Whoops.

One Summer: America 1927 is about exactly what the title says. It's about the summer of 1927 in America where a bunch of stuff happened. Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. Babe Ruth was smashing homeruns and getting close to setting a record, the first talkie was released, Sacco and Vanzetti were executed, lots of stuff going on. And more. And it's lots of stuff that, when listed out like that, I'm not especially interested. But, as I've said before, Bryson could write about paint drying and I'd be intrigued. This time was no exception.

I have never understood what was so great about Lindbergh flying across the Atlantic. That's not to say I don't appreciate the importance of what he did and what it meant for air travel, and it's not to say that what he did was easy in anyway. But man, the world went absolutely NUTS for the guy in a way that I can't imagine now. It's not to say that I know understand and think "Oh OF COURSE this was the world's reaction. It all makes sense now and I can't imagine them reacting any differently" but at least now I can go "Huh, would you look at that? I guess that is how people reacted. This poor guy."

I knew of Babe Ruth, of course, but didn't really know much about him outside of the fact that he played baseball. I knew the names Sacco and Vanzetti and that they were anarchists and that they were executed. I knew Calvin Coolidge was a president. I knew prohibition was a (stupid) thing. But I can't say I knew very much about any of these things or anything else that Bryson goes into before reading this.

Bryson has a way to not only bring the human element of stories to the forefront but also to put things into context so you understand what lead up to certain events. And all of this is done with his trademark humor.

One thing I noticed this book lacked more than his other books is Bryson himself. Obviously I didn't expect this book to feature him as prominently as his travelogues or semi-memoir, but even his books like Made in America about the English language in America and A Short History of Nearly Everything about science featured more of him, talking about the research he did and the people he talked to. This book still has his voice, but he's never quoted directly. I sort of missed that. I think I like Bryson so much cos I feel like I'm talking to a friend tell me about all these cool things he's learned.

It wasn't my favorite Bryson, but "not my favorite Bryson" still ranks really high up there in "excellent books I have read and will probably read again".

Gif rating

Also I tried to find the plaque for Lindbergh that's at the Roosevelt Field Mall (formally Roosevelt field where he made many famous take-offs and landings) but that mall is GIANT and I got distracted by shiny things. At some point I'll find it. Probably.

Title quote from page 428

Bryson, Bill. One Summer: America 1927. Anchor Books, 2013.