The U.S. dis­cov­ered im­por­tance in 1927

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - LIFE -

BILL Bryson used to be a muchloved Amer­i­can writer of hu­mor­ous travel books like A Walk in the Woods: Re­dis­cov­er­ing Amer­ica on the Ap­palachian Trail, but his in­ter­ests have broad­ened and he has writ­ten about sub­jects like his­tory, the English lan­guage and sci­ence. At Home: A Short His­tory of Pri­vate Life (2010) is an ex­am­ple.

In One Sum­mer, Bryson uses the mo­men­tous events of the sum­mer of 1927 to in­tro­duce us to Amer­ica in the 1920s. He ar­gues that Lind­bergh’s At­lantic cross­ing, Babe Ruth’s home run record and the ad­vent of talkies with The Jazz Singer, and many more, for the first time at­tracted the se­ri­ous at­ten­tion of the out­side world, and marked “…the mo­ment when Amer­ica dis­cov­ered its own im­por­tance.”

At first glance the reader may won­der why he is tack­ling events most peo­ple are so fa­mil­iar with. What could be said that would be new?

But Bryson can al­ways find some­thing new to say and can make any­thing, even the Aus­tralian out­back, seem fas­ci­nat­ing. There are dozens of books about Lind­bergh, for ex­am­ple, start­ing with We, the book the flyer him­self wrote soon af­ter his At­lantic cross­ing right up to re­cent bi­ogra­phies like Lind­bergh by A. Scott Berg (2013) and At­lantic Fever: Lind­bergh, his Com­peti­tors and the Race to Cross the At­lantic by Joe Jack­son (2012).

But by weav­ing the young Min­nesotan’s story to­gether with those of the other fig­ures cov­ered in the book, Bryson puts his story in the broader con­text of U.S. his­tory. With Lind­bergh, as with all the other fig­ures, Bryson gives a com­plete bi­og­ra­phy em­pha­siz­ing the ef­fect Lind­bergh’s achieve­ment and later ac­tiv­i­ties had on Amer­i­can so­cial and po­lit­i­cal his­tory.

While ev­ery­one knows who Babe Ruth was and that he was a great hit­ter, Bryson jumps off from Ruth’s record break­ing 1927 sea­son to give us a his­tory of the New York Yan­kees and base­ball in the 1920s, as well as portraits of other play­ers like Lou Gehrig.

Herbert Hoover, who would soon be pres­i­dent, is also given star treat­ment. By 1927 he was a wealthy man, a cab­i­net mem­ber and fa­mous for his work feed­ing and hous­ing many thou­sands of Bel­gian refugees dur­ing the First World War.

Hoover was put in charge of car­ing for the mil­lions of vic­tims of the great Mis­sis­sippi flood of that year. Bryson gives a rather crit­i­cal ac­count of his work.

Gang­ster Al Capone, the boxer Jack Dempsey, Calvin Coolidge and Henry Ford are all in­tro­duced in some de­tail and their ac­tiv­i­ties dur­ing the sum­mer are used to il­lus­trate as­pects of their ca­reers. At the end of the book we are told what even­tu­ally be­came of all th­ese peo­ple — sat­is­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion for the reader.

Bryson some­times gets side­tracked. The ghastly ca­reer of eu­geni­cist Henry M. Laugh­lin, who was re­spon­si­ble for the ster­il­iza­tion of tens of thou­sands of men­tally hand­i­capped Amer­i­cans, and the de­tails of the “Sash Weight Mur­der Case,” might have been left out. So could some of the in­ter­est­ing facts in the book. By the time, on page 405, we are in­formed the Thomp­son ma­chine gun was named af­ter Gen. John Teli­a­ferro Thomp­son, we no longer re­ally care.

But Bryson can be for­given a few lapses. One Sum­mer is a de­light­ful en­ter­tain­ment that gives the reader a good ground­ing in the na­ture and sig­nif­i­cance of the 1920s in Amer­ica.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.