1927 by Gerald Leinwand


High Tide of the 1920s
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A freelance educator and historian (The Pageant of World History, not reviewed) offers the social and political history of a single year.

In a sentence that fairly bubbles with mixed metaphors, the author states his thesis: “Like a great wine, 1927 was a vintage year in which may be found echoes of issues which still haunt Americans today.” After producing this weird wine that both echoes and haunts, he examines American culture through a variety of familiar lenses: national and international politics, economics, crime and criminals (Al Capone’s sordid story consumes a sizable passel of pages), race relations, feminism, religion, public health and education, and the arts. Not that 1927 was an uninteresting year. As Leinwand reveals, it saw the landing of Lindbergh, the emergence of “talkies,” the dedication of Mt. Rushmore, the overturning of the 1925 Scopes “monkey trial” verdict, the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, the prominence of Aimee Semple McPherson, the devastating Mississippi River floods, the first Oscars, the Broadway premiere of Showboat, the release of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the publication of Elmer Gantry, and a myriad of other seminal events. It was a time of rampant racism and anti-Semitism (membership in the KKK had peaked only two years earlier, lynchings remained a national disgrace, and Henry Ford himself was sued for sponsoring vicious published attacks on Jewish Americans), a time when medical charlatans practiced their quackery all over the country, when the newspaper tabloids first began nudging their more traditional counterparts toward the sensational and lurid. Leinwand tells so many fascinating stories that he sometimes loses track and tells portions of them again: we twice hear that Capone was sensitive about his scarred face and that women held positions in 537 of 572 occupational categories established by the 1920 census. An additional annoyance is the author’s repeated use of quotations unattributed in the text, a bad habit that forces readers to retreat to the endnotes to identify the speaker.

Heavyweight research, lightweight analysis. (12 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Feb. 12th, 2001
ISBN: 1-56858-153-X
Page count: 344pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 2000


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