Book review. One summer: America 1927 – Bill Bryson

"Bill Bryson - One summer: 1927"


Bill Bryson may not be everyone’s cup of tea but as someone who loves travel and has done a fair bit of it, I love his observational style of writing.  I have read quite a few of his works, particularly of his journeys around the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA, and loved them because I have travelled frequently to those areas. One summer: America 1927 is something a little different considering the author wasn’t born yet.

It’s a historical timeline of one year that covers so many of my interests, from world history, aviation, America, boxing to all things mafia, so I was excited when I picked it up in a bookstore and read the book cover. Nowadays, I am happily an eBook junkie and read almost exclusively on my Kindle, but every now and again I buy a book made with real paper, usually one that I will want to read again in many years from now.

The Charles Lindbergh story has always fascinated me as it is one about courage and blind faith. At a time when there were several attempts being made to cross the Atlantic in a single flight, many ending in the death of the crews, he stood out as the calm introvert who just loved to fly.

I have looked into an exact model of the Spirit of St Louis, and I cannot fathom how he flew, navigated or even did his ablutions in the minuscule cockpit that was designed for him. Nevertheless, he made it and then spent 1927 doing a countrywide tour being hailed as a hero. As a fellow introvert, all this adoring affection from millions, public appearances and street parades must have been excruciating, yet he did it as a service to helping his country in tough times. If only they had realised the real global depression that was waiting a few years down the line.

Although I am not a major baseball fan, the story of Babe Ruth was no less captivating. A true rags-to -riches story of the early baseball days, he is one of the true American sporting heroes. Growing up in a reformatory where he learnt life’s lessons and baseball from one the of the Christian Brothers who taught there. It was after a stuttered start that his career took off and in 1927 he was part of the “Murder’s Row” lineup in 1927, arguably the best baseball team of all time. He hit 60 home runs that year to extend his single-season record. A larger than life character off the field too, his womanizing and excessive drinking captured many a headline that year.

Al Capone’s notorious endeavours are also covered in detail as he continued to live his own legend more than directly influence the organised crime world. He was larger than than his own life and loved living up to that reputation, although his earnings never quite came close to the likes of Johnny Torio, for example.

1927 was also the year of the “Long Count” fight between heavyweight boxing legends, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. One the champion, the other a former champion. Dempsey floored Tunney and then stood over the fallen man, taunting him, as he liked to do. The ref wouldn’t begin counting until Dempsey had retreated to his corner so only started the count a full eight to ten seconds late. Tunney got up, composed himself and later floored Dempsey himself, who was immediately counted out, without Tunney being in his corner. Was their Mafia involvement, who knows, but the dispute over the length of count still causes debate today.

Other great stories told of how Herbert Hoover brought his magic to help out on the Great Mississippi Flood of that year, and Henry Ford watched his fifteenth million Model T Ford roll off the production line. There were too many snippets to list in this review, but it was twelve months of wonderful history that were really well told. Highly recommended.

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