One Summer: America 1927 – Bill Bryson
So, I’ve taken a break from novels to read some non-fiction, by one of my favourite non-fiction authors, Bill Bryson.
I might not have read this book were it not for an old documentary series on aviation called Reaching for the Skies. When I was a lad and people still watched VHS tapes, one of my favourite (non-Disney) videos contained two episodes of this series: ‘Trailblazers’ and ‘Quest for Speed’. I watched it a lot – looking back now, it still holds up as informative and well put together, plus the title music is awesome. The first of the two episodes placed some focus on Charles Lindbergh and his solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927. So when I found this book online and read an extract from it, it brought back some fond memories and old interests, as well as adding extra information to what I already knew, and I wanted to read the rest.
As the title suggests, the book focusses on what was going on in America in the summer of 1927 – and it turns out, quite a lot was happening then. It starts off with Lindbergh, who only made his famous flight in May (and was then very busy for the rest of the summer), but goes on to discuss Babe Ruth, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Snyder & Gray, Sacco & Vanzetti, to name but a few. Then there are more general issues, like the first talking pictures, the invention of practical television, and plenty of information on what life was like for the average American back then.
It’s written in Bryson’s usual brilliant style, simultaneously fascinating and hilarious (e.g. on a plane which was having trouble landing – “[The pilot] circled around the airfield while he considered his options (or rather, considered that he had no options).)” Bryson seems to particularly like going in depth about nearly everyone who comes into the story, and finds strange quirks to describe for them all. (We all have them, I guess.) However, these little tangents sometimes get a little irritating when they pop up in the middle of an interesting story and you want to find out what happened next. The only other thing I could criticise is that Bryson assumes the reader knows how baseball works – since my only knowledge of baseball comes from Wii Sport, I was bewildered sometimes in the sections on the New York Yankees. Then again, describing all the rules for the reader would probably have brought the book to a grinding halt, so I’ll just have to stop being lazy and do some research myself.
Overall, this book is Bryson at his best, and anyone with an interest in history should give it a read. Rating: 4.5/5.