A popular chronicler of life and lore vividly charts a particularly pivotal season in American history.
Bryson (At Home: A Short History of Private Life, 2010, etc.) reanimates the events and principal players across five key months in 1927. He establishes an early-20th-century, trial-and-error chronology of aviation evolution cresting with Charles Lindbergh, a lean man with a dream, natural-born skills and the unparalleled motivation to design an aircraft capable of traversing the Atlantic. Braided into Lindbergh’s saga are profiles of cultural icons like ambitious “colossus” Herbert Hoover, famed gangster Al Capone, and baseball players Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, whose domination of America’s “National Game” captured the country’s attention. Recounted with brio and diligent detailing yet perhaps lacking the author’s better-known witty dynamism, Bryson honorably captures the spirit of the era, a golden age of newspapers, skyscrapers, patriotism, Broadway plays and baseball. The author enthusiastically draws on the heroic lives of tight-lipped President Calvin Coolidge and boxing great Jack Dempsey and artfully interweaves into Lindbergh’s meteoric rise the pitfalls of Prohibition, the splendor of Henry Ford’s Model T (and the horrors of constructing “Fordlandia” in the Amazon rain forest), the demise of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, and a noteworthy comparison between popular long-standing authors Zane Grey and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Collectively, what Bryson offers is a creatively written regeneration of historical facts; the revelations, while few, appear in the form of eccentric personal factoids (i.e., Coolidge liked his head rubbed with Vaseline, Grey was excessively libidinous) demarcating that scrutinized summer of dreamers and innovators. While he may be an expatriate residing in England, Bryson’s American pride saturates this rewarding book.
A distinctively drawn time capsule from a definitive epoch.