by Edith Cody-Rice
A book by Bill Bryson is always a delight and this one no less than his others. Mr. Bryson has chosen the summer of 1927 as a jumping off point to explore the defining elements of post World War I America. Charles Lindbergh’s unlikely record making solo flight across the Atlantic is a central feature, as it gripped America and, apparently, in an early glimpse into the perils of celebrity, made his life a living hell of crowds and souvenir seekers.
Mr Bryson provides delicious insights into the booming, predepression American economy, including the worlds of prohibition, Ford, baseball and Babe Ruth, the public executioner, sensational murders, and the early movies. He describes those people and events that gripped the U.S.A. just as radio was coming on the scene and before the advent of television. Mr. Bryson points out how people of the 1920’s gathered in huge crowds for almost any event. 100,000 people turned up to watch a New York hotel burn down. Tens of thousands turned up to watch a flag pole sitter and well, for Charles Lindbergh, we lose count.
America was full of energy and wild schemes like the carving of presidential figures into Mount Rushmore. Its politicians embodied in President Calvin Coolidge, were less than stellar, with the possible exception of the publicity hunting Herbert Hoover who proved extremely capable. We learn that Hoover fed Austria after the war, a stupendous achievement and relatively little known fact now.
Mr. Bryson has said in interviews that his starting point was the two great figures of Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh in the summer of 1927, both of whom had outstanding accomplishments that year; however, his research revealed that that year was also the beginning of the downfall of Al Capone, and the year of the greatest natural disaster in American history, the Mississippi flood. He changed the whole thrust of his book to look at everything that was happening in this frenetic summer, much of which changed the world.
If you are a Bryson fan or know one, this book should be on your Christmas shopping list