Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: One Summer by Bill Bryson

Title: One Summer: America, 1927
Author: Bill Bryson
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Source: Audible

You can probably tell, based on my reading list, that I'd rather read fiction than nonfiction. And if I'm reading nonfiction, my favorite genre is definitely memoir. When I buy books from Audible, I often buy nonfiction books, and then find myself not interested in listening to them (but I'm too dutiful, and eventually end up listening to almost everything). So I wasn't all that enthusiastic about starting Bill Bryson's One Summer, despite the fact that I've enjoyed almost everything I've read by Bryson.

The book starts in May 1927 with the race to fly across the Atlantic, follows the Mississippi floods (I was listening to this at the same time I was reading The Tilted World, which was a delightful coincidence), Babe Ruth's home run streak, Calvin Coolidge's decision not to seek reelection, the Sacco and Vanzetti executions, and many other big historical events that all took place in one momentous summer.

I shouldn't have doubted Bryson. An hour into this 20-hour masterpiece, I was hooked in a way that I rarely am when I read nonfiction. He was so adept at crafting characters out of historical figures, getting me as a reader to care about them, then leaving them for a while to talk about a new story, then somehow bringing both stories together in a way that illuminated both. While I think that 1927 was a remarkable summer in some ways, reading this book made me wish that there was a book like this written for every year in American history.

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