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If you have read Bill Bryson before, you know what to expect out of One Summer, but that doesn't make it any less amazing. In fact, in many ways, this is a masterclass in Bryson's unique style: a rapid engaging tour through a series of historical incidents (most of which will be unfamiliar to the reader) organized loosely around an unexpected theme. He has done this with science, with the rooms of a house, and now, oddly enough, with the summer of 1927. This ends up being a particularly interesting choice, since the 1920s is often undercovered in history, and the result is a fascinating glimpse of the world becoming "modern" as talking picture, mass celebrity, airplanes, and a host of technologies become mainstream, even as racism and antisemitism appear in virulent forms.
So, we get to hear about Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone, Babe Ruth, and a range of other compelling figures from the summer of 1927. Bryson does not feel particularly compelled to stick with 1927, and the history weaves back and forth, but, simply because Bryson is so good at this, the story stays compelling and suspenseful despite the loose approach to the telling of history and the many rambling directions of the book. And, of course, Bill Bryson is also a great reader. The whole thing is pleasantly gentle and humorous while full of surprising insights into the time.
Really, just a wonderful example of popular history set in an understudied time. A great listen all around.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
I wasn’t worried about buying this book without knowing what it was about, because I trust Bill Bryson to be worth the risk, and he didn’t let me down.
At first it appears to be the story of Charles Lindbergh’s solo crossing of the Atlantic, but then it expands to also become the story of all the other interesting things that were going on in America that summer. Bryson rambles from story to story in no particular logical order, but all the characters he mentions are colourful and fascinating, such as Babe Ruth, Al Capone and Jack Dempsey.
Bryson’s style is very distinctive, full of superlatives and yet simultaneously laced with dry understatement. He is also the narrator of this audiobook, and he does a great job (although his French pronunciation isn’t great!).
He is such a brilliant storyteller that you wonder if 1927 was an exceptionally interesting year, or whether Bryson could write a similar book about any year and make it just as fascinating. I think the latter is probably true.
35 of 36 people found this review helpful