Monday, August 08, 2016

"One Summer, America 1927"

This historical account by Bill Bryson is entertaining and informative.  It's a view of America in and around 1927 that is full of interesting facts and well told stories, and gives the perspective of the American people at that time.  What really was of interest to them and what news did they obsessively follow?

This was the year of Charles Lindberg's crossing of the Atlantic and the year of Babe Ruth's 60 home runs.  Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney fought before 150,000 fans at Soldier Field as America listened on the newly ubiquitous radio.  President Calvin Coolidge did little and said less as the economy prospered.  Al Capone was at the height of his criminal powers that year, so much so that he was more or less a part of the Chicago establishment.  Prohibition was in force but in big cities but it was only tacitly enforced.  Saloons grew exponentially as untaxed and unregulated beer and booze was highly profitable.  Films were never more popular and were shown in extravagant movie palaces in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles among other big cities.  The theory of eugenics was developing a mainstream following that tied into the racism that was a reaction to immigration and what was happening in Germany.  Ownership of automobiles was growing rapidly as these future huge businesses developed.  Newspapers had readership like never before, or after.

"One Summer" captures all of this and more as it follows popular culture at that time.  What it only touches on but does not delve into deeply are the forces that were setting the stage for the Great Depression.  That no doubt reflects what was of interest, or not of interest, to people at that time.

The book did not end with any grand conclusions or major insights.  It was simply an in depth look at a period in time.  The reader was left on his own at the end, having been treated to a deluge of commentary on that year in America, 1927.  It's a fine bit of story telling.

Postscript:  Reading this book,  I could not help but think about how this was absorbed by my parents.  My father would have been nine years old at that time and my mother seven.  I know that my mother loved movies, and she even played the piano(she was gifted) in the flat floored theater with folding chairs in her small town before the age of ten, but I don't know how much before.  My father was never much of a sports fan(until golf that he began to play in his forties), but he did choose to become trained as an Army Air Force pilot even before the U.S. entered WWII(Lindbergh related?) for some reason.  He was eventually shot down over China as part of the Flying Tigers, the successor of the OSS.  He survived and would never talk about it, and here I am.


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