This is a zippy pop-history of the summer of 1927 in the United States. Without going into any one subject in great detail, Bryson paints a picture of a nation blissfully ignorant of the coming dark days of the Great Depression.
In broad strokes, Bryson recounts the plans & groundbreaking of Mt. Rushmore; Babe Ruth's historic 1927 season and his friendship/rivalry with Lou Gehrig; the toll of The Great Flood; Herbert Hoover's vast reach; Calvin Coolidge's seeming apathy toward the presidency; the landmark musical Showboat; the invention of television alongside the role of radio and film in American life; and, most importantly (and the only subject on which he goes a little deeper than the basic facts) the remarkable response to Charles Lindbergh's famous flight across the Atlantic.
As a narrator, Bryson's hybrid British-American accent can be a bit grating on American ears—"opulent" is pronounced with a long O, for example. It's a minor quibble but worth considering before spending 17 hours listening to the book.
Overall, I found this to be a fun history that will make you feel less guilty for caring more about Ben Affleck's casting as Batman than impending war in Syria; Americans in 1927 turned a blind eye to the myriad disasters, atrocious crimes, and clear warning signs of an economy on the brink in favor of obsessing about baseball, Lindbergh, boxing, and flagpole-sitting.
Bryson almost gleefully portrays Americans as absurdly guileless people, and there is a touch of melancholy to this—since 1927, we have become a nation that has faced a series of challenges that have left us less innocent. Thinking back from The Great Depression – The Great Recession, the summer of 1927 might have been the last time we were a buoyant country.
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