The summer that changed the world

JILLIAN ALLISON-AITKEN
Last updated 11:28 11/02/2014

REVIEW: One Summer: America, 1927
By Bill Bryson (Doubleday, RRP $55)

American author Bill Bryson has come up with an interesting concept for this fact-packed trip back in time, telling the story of one summer in the history of America that changed the world forever.

In 1927, the world between the two world wars, the United States was half-way through Prohibition and facing a time of rapid and often quite enormous change. All-in-all, things looked pretty good.

This book captures that one season of that one year, telling the story of that season in an easy read that feels as much like a work of easily readable fiction as it does a historical narrative.

The decade dubbed the Roaring Twenties saw the US prospering after World War 1, with post-war optimism prompting many rural Americans to make the move to cities. This resulted in the agriculture industry being somewhat neglected and is often cited as one of the key that caused the 1929 stock market crash, and from there the Great Depression.

However, in the summer of 1927, the mob was on the scene, the stock market was booming, talking pictures arrived with the release of The Jazz Singer, Babe Ruth hit a record 60 home runs for the New York Yankees and Charles Lindbergh went from a nobody to the most famous bloke on the planet when he became the first man to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. America had come of age.

Most of the reviews of this book have been favourable but there have been some exceptions, with with Washington Post reviewer and history professor Douglas Brinkley saying not all the facts were correct and that he believed it lacked footnotes, and the Boston Globe reviewer pointing out that it contains at least one factual error.

In all honesty, I believe they are nit-picking: there may be one not particularly huge error but sources are cited throughout the book, which presents a snapshot of a significant time in the history of the US that in turn had a massive impact of the rest of the world. I picked this up because the prospect of a history book written in this narrative style was appealing, not because I wanted to read a dry, academic account that featured page after page of footnotes and sources.

This is the story of a time that was a effectively a big adventure that changed the world: an easy read and I thoroughly recommend it.

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