by Bill Bryson
Read by the author
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Content: It’s popular history. And because of that, there is talk of sex and some swearing (maybe 4 or 5 f-bombs). It’s adult-oriented, but I’m sure an inquisitive high schooler could read it.
I adore Bill Bryson. Sure, he’s a former journalist and a popular historian, but he comes at history in such unique ways that I can’t help but love him. Rather than Another Dry Biography of any of the people he talks about in this book — Charles Lindberg, Babe Ruth, Jack Dempsey, Al Capone, Calvin Coolidge, Ruth Snyder, Niccola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, among others — he realized that talking about a summer, the summer where everything seemed to gel, would be so much more interesting.
And he was right.
He had me enthralled from the prologue when he talked about the failed attempts at flying across the Atlantic in the early 1920s. And he kept me enthralled (for the most part; I did tune out the banking parts) for the whole of the entire book. (Granted, that may be because I listened to it, and I love listening to Bill Bryson read his books. Kind of like Neil Gaiman.) It was chock full of trivia (the one thing I remember is that the summer of 1927, Memphis had the highest murder rate in the country, not Chicago), sure, but also of insightful passages. (I would quote them, but again: audio book.) That’s one of the things I love about Bryson; the way he throws in asides and commentary about his subject, but you never quite feel he’s being didactic. Snarky, yes. But didactic or preachy? No.
One of the things that I kept thinking as listened is just how much history repeats himself. And how much we ARE. Racism and trying to block immigrants? Check. (Except it’s south of the border and Middle East rather than Ireland, Italy, and Jews.) Banking bubble because politicians won’t regulate it? Check. I’m sure there are others, but (audio book, dangit!) I can’t think of them right now. I’d say everyone needs to read this for that reason — so we can grow and change and become better — but really? Read it because it’s Bill Bryson and it’s fascinating and a lot of fun.
You won’t regret it. Promise.