Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Audiobook Review: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

I am a big fan of Bill Bryson.  I've read most of his travel books and his hilarious memoir, but I haven't ventured into his science and history books until now.  One Summer: America, 1927 has been on my "to read" list since it came out a few years ago; my commute gave me the perfect excuse to listen to it--all 13 discs.  It took me two weeks of commuting to listen to it, but I am so glad I did because it is a fascinating look at an America that no longer exists.

I am always interested in the 1920's simply because my Dad was born in 1928, and I've wondered what the world was like when he was a child.  It's a way of connecting with him because there aren't a lot of photos of my Dad growing up.   When he met and married my Mom and had eight kids, well there are oodles of pictures of him as my Dad.  But as a small boy, I've only seen a few pictures of him.  I think about how much the world changed during his lifetime and I wish I had asked him what he thought of it all before he died in 2004.  

Back to 1927.  There was a lot going on, and Bill Bryson deftly weaves the stories all together to give the reader (or listener) a story of an America that was growing in leaps and bounds, and faced the same issues we face today.  There were times when I thought I was listening to news of today:  there were acts of terrorism with bombs all throughout the states; race riots, men who became heroes overnight (but ended up with feet of clay), and as always, the glamour of Hollywood.  Charles Lindbergh flies to Paris from New York and becomes an sensation who finds the crowds and relentless hero-worship extremely uncomfortable and annoying.  People loved him anyway.  There was Babe Ruth and the magical Yankees, and that year of 60 home runs.  Herbert Hoover was steadily moving up the ranks in government, while Calvin Coolidge preferred to be a president who didn't do much, because everything was ticking along just fine.  No need to fix what isn't broken.  

Life was fast, people were on the move, and automobiles, motion pictures, and radio were fast becoming giants in the everyday life of Americans.  American culture began to spread around the world through radio and film--completely unintentional in the beginning, but a byproduct of the booming movie industry.  A lot of people think the American cultural influence didn't really start until much later in the 20th century, but it was the "talkies" that started it all in the 1920's.

This is a fascinating historical book, and so chock full of information it can make your head spin.  Bill Bryson narrates it, and it is full of his usual wit and little factual details that keep the story flowing.  My one beef, and this  was huge for me, was Bill Bryson's voice.  He has a very interesting mix of American Midwest accent coupled with a bit of British.  It made for some pronunciations that were a bit odd to my ear, and it really distracted me throughout the whole 13 discs and two weeks it took me to listen to this audio.  I can't help it!  I talked to a friend who also listened to the audio, and she said "I know exactly what you mean".  I feel bad about that, but there it is.  Bill Bryson has such a soft speaking voice that I had the volume turned way up in my car to catch it all.  Other than that, I enjoyed this look at 1927 America very much.  

Rating:  7/10 for a superb, historically fascinating tale of America after World War I, and before World War II; that time of prohibition, aviation, and baseball. What an amazing decade.  My only issue was completely personal in the occasionally jarring accent and quiet voice of the author.  But I can't imagine anyone else narrating this!

Available in paperback, hardcover, audio, and e-book.


  1. This is one of Bryson's books I haven't read. He sure knows how to create the daily details of a period of history.

    1. He's got a talent for bringing history to life and all the small details make the stories fascinating. Who says history is dull?!