I adore Bill Bryson. Mostly, because he takes history and does something unique with it. Like this book, for instance. Instead of being just another biography of any of the people he talks about in this book — Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Al Capone, Calvin Coolidge, Ruth Snyder, Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, among others — he realized that talking about a summer, the summer where everything seemed to gel, would be so much more interesting.
And he was right.
He had me enthralled from the prologue when he talked about the failed attempts at flying across the Atlantic in the early 1920s. And he kept me enthralled (for the most part; I did skim the banking parts) for the whole of the entire book. It was chock full of trivia (the one thing I remember is that during the summer of 1927, Memphis had the highest murder rate in the country, not Chicago), sure, but also of insightful passages. That’s one of the things I love about Bryson: the way he throws in asides and commentary about his subject, without ever quite seeming didactic. Snarky, yes. But didactic or preachy? No.
One of the things I kept thinking as listened is just how much history repeats itself. And how much we ARE. Racism and trying to block immigrants? Check. (Except it’s south of the border and Middle East rather than Ireland, Italy and Jews.) Banking bubble because politicians won’t regulate it? Check. I’m sure there are others, but (audio book, dangit!) I can’t think of them right now. I’d say everyone needs to read this for that reason — so we can grow and change and become better — but really? Read it because it’s Bill Bryson and it’s fascinating and a lot of fun.
You won’t regret it. Promise.
Rated: Moderate for some talk of sex and some swearing (including maybe four or five f-bombs).