In a fascinating work about a remarkable year, former NBC News correspondent Burns (Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties, 2010, etc.) shows us what put the roar in the Roaring ’20s.
The end of World War I brought reactions in the form of anarchy, the birth of jazz, the first Ponzi scheme, Prohibition, women’s suffrage and the birth of “mass media.” Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his assistant, J. Edgar Hoover, fought the Red Scare against the likes of Sacco and Vanzetti and the most notorious anarchist, Luigi Galleani, who swore by the “propaganda of the deed.” Their work would lose effectiveness as their agents were diverted to enforce Prohibition, which caused its own problems. The Anti-Saloon League was the first of the special interest groups, and Prohibition cost organized crime its organization, as it became a growth industry to provide unregulated, and often lethal, liquor to the masses. The election of Warren Harding in 1920 was the first in which women voted and the first time returns were broadcast on radio. It also brought the “Ohio Gang” into Washington, a group who imported Canadian liquor by the trainload, sold Teapot Dome and ran cons that Ponzi, who made millions in a few short months, would have loved. There was also extensive birth and growth. The migration of blacks to the North looking for work brought the Ku Klux Klan in their wake, but they also brought jazz and other cultural elements. Jazz brought men like Louis Armstrong to Chicago and then New York and Harlem. The Harlem Renaissance was spurred not only by jazz, but also by literature—by Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes and countless others. Burns follows it all with verve.
In this delightfully readable book, the author expertly shows how those affected by the Great War linked together, nourished each other and really did change the world.