Book Review Thursday: One Summer: America, 1927

OneSummerThe summer of 1927 was a momentous period of history in more ways than one.  The book, authored by Bill Bryson, begins with Charles Lindbergh’s historic Atlantic flight.  On May 21, 1927, Lindbergh safely (and accurately) landed in Paris and ignited a world-wide storm of admiration for the young man from Minnesota.

Charles Lindbergh obviously was not prepared for the adulation and accolades he received.  Everywhere he went he was mobbed by an adoring crowd.  Others flew across the Atlantic after him but their feats didn’t receive the adulation and attention that Lindbergh generated.  Bryson intersperses the historic event by looking back (and forward) in the life of Lindbergh.

Charles Lindbergh’s family name was actually Mansson (Swedish).  His grandfather, Ola Mansson, was married (and seemed happily so) with eight children, but when he was appointed to the national parliament, he began an affair with a waitress twenty years his junior.  He fathered a child, became entangled in a financial scandal, abandoned his family and fled to America (Minnesota) with his mistress and child.  His name was then August Lindbergh.

August Lindbergh suffered an horrific injury two years after arriving in Minnesota, his body ripped apart by in a sawmill accident.  His injuries were so severe as to expose his internal organs.  When the doctor operated, it was said that August Lindbergh made no sound at all, but surprisingly he recovered and lived another thirty years – stoicism, henceforth, was a family trait.  August’s son, Charles August Lindbergh, grew up, married and was elected to Congress in 1906. Charles August Lindbergh, Jr. was born on February 4, 1902.

Charles Lindbergh had never been a good student – his mother wrote his papers for him.  He was a great pilot, a natural, and a bit of a daredevil at times.  He supervised the building of his beloved plane, Spirit of St. Louis.  He was a stickler for details, so much so that when calculating how he could shed extra weight in the plane to maximize fuel consumption, he trimmed the white margins off his maps.

Even with all the Lindbergh mania, there was so much more happening in the summer of 1927 – events that captured the attention of Americans and the world.  A massive Mississippi River flood had devastated a large section of the country.  Prohibition was in its eighth year and a huge failure – there was actually more drinking after Prohibition than before, an underworld of citizens turned criminals.  Moral decline was evident in the dance crazes of the 1920’s  – jazz was especially scorned (see Anne Shaw Faulkner’s August 1921 Ladies Home Journal article entitled “Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?”).

There was a sensational murder trial, which later became the premise of the Fred MacMurray movie, Double Indemnity.  Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were duking it out on the baseball field, each trying to hit more home runs than the other – and Lindbergh mania continued.  Charles Lindbergh flew across the nation and everywhere he went he continued to be mobbed.  At one point, his home state of Minnesota proposed a state name change to Lindberghia.  Lindbergh’s welcome home parade in New York generated 1,800 tons of confetti (the Armistice parade of 1918 had generated 155 tons).

Throughout the book, Bryson sprinkles historical and trivial tidbits – President Warren G. Harding was said to have risen from his chair in the middle of a conversation and casually urinated in the White House fireplace.  Henry Ford was narrow-minded, and some thought he might be functionally illiterate, given his court performance during a libel trial.  Ford was beginning to conceive a utopian community in Brazil that summer.

Chapter 15 of the book summarizes the background leading up to the depression and makes it abundantly clear what would happen in the then not too distant future – probably one of the most concise and clear explanations I’ve ever read about what caused the depression – something we might want to pay more attention to in 2014.

Suffice it to say, this book is chock full of facts and background of a truly historical summer.  It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much of history doesn’t consist of merely the barebones we are usually taught (if at all) in school – everything happens for a reason and there’s always a “background story” to be told.  If you are interested in the early twentieth century – the Roaring 20’s – then this book is a must read.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.



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