A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is one of those books that encompass so much that you are still digesting it weeks after finishing it. When I told my mother what I was reading, she said the title sounded like a romance novel and was surprised when I told her it was a history book. Bryson, who is better known for his travel books, turns his gaze towards a pivotal summer in American(and world) history–1927.
Why that year? For most of us, the twenties blur into a decade filled with flappers and jazz, beginning with Prohibition and ending with the stock market crash. But it was actually a starting point of the modern era, with huge advances in aviation, radio programming, film production, manufacturing innovations, among others. Political careers that later blossomed into presidencies sprouted and changes in the social fabric were underway.
The cornerstone of the book is Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic Ocean and the effect that had on air travel, both mechanically and public perception. Before and after Lindbergh’s trip, the loss of life in attempts to fly long distance (and sometimes short distances) was disheartening. While Amelia Earhart is the most famous pilot to go missing, she was only one of many. The fact that Lindbergh was successful was a pleasant surprise and his nickname of Lucky had a deeper meaning than we realize today. The novelty of that adventure brought him fame in a way that probably only the Beatles can relate to. And unlike many history books, Bryson follows Lindbergh’s life beyond the sensational aspects.
1927 was also the year that Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for robbery and the author uses that as a springboard for showing how prejudice was rampant in America, especially towards new immigrants fleeing the rise of fascism. There was also the bigoted reactions towards the large numbers of blacks who were migrating to northern cities after the severe flooding of the Mississippi River.
One of the most startling things was how radio evolved. For years, there was very little programming and few stations broadcasting, but finally some bright minds realized the potential of the medium and it rapidly became filled with the programs it was famous for, instead of intermittent weather reports. 1927 was the year films began using sound, soon named “talkies”, the first one was The Jazz Singer. (And no, it wasn’t the one starring Neil Diamond.)
Though most of the events of the year had global implications, baseball is particularly American. And though the records set by Babe Ruth and his team, the New York Yankees, are amazing athletic feats, they are quite insular. I suppose Bryson included so much of the sport because it’s such a large part of summer in the U.S., but it’s really not up to the level of the other weighty events.
While more serious than most of Bryson’s other books, he still adds a lot of amusing anecdotes and does a good job of conveying the sense of wonder that people must have felt during those momentous experiences.Some probably didn’t seem as far-reaching as they really were. The lively prose, from the standpoint of an ordinary person conveys the remarkable times our grandparents or great grandparents lived in, which was, after all, less than a hundred years ago.
Knopf 2013 528 pp. ISBN-13:9780767919401 available in traditional and ebook formats