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One Summer

Cover of One Summer

One Summer

America, 1927
A Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book
A GoodReads Reader's Choice
In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.

The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true "talking picture," Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.
From the Hardcover edition.
A Chicago Tribune Noteworthy Book
A GoodReads Reader's Choice
In One Summer Bill Bryson, one of our greatest and most beloved nonfiction writers, transports readers on a journey back to one amazing season in American life.

The summer of 1927 began with one of the signature events of the twentieth century: on May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first man to cross the Atlantic by plane nonstop, and when he landed in Le Bourget airfield near Paris, he ignited an explosion of worldwide rapture and instantly became the most famous person on the planet. Meanwhile, the titanically talented Babe Ruth was beginning his assault on the home run record, which would culminate on September 30 with his sixtieth blast, one of the most resonant and durable records in sports history. In between those dates a Queens housewife named Ruth Snyder and her corset-salesman lover garroted her husband, leading to a murder trial that became a huge tabloid sensation. Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sat atop a flagpole in Newark, New Jersey, for twelve days—a new record. The American South was clobbered by unprecedented rain and by flooding of the Mississippi basin, a great human disaster, the relief efforts for which were guided by the uncannily able and insufferably pompous Herbert Hoover. Calvin Coolidge interrupted an already leisurely presidency for an even more relaxing three-month vacation in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The gangster Al Capone tightened his grip on the illegal booze business through a gaudy and murderous reign of terror and municipal corruption. The first true "talking picture," Al Jolson's The Jazz Singer, was filmed and forever changed the motion picture industry. The four most powerful central bankers on earth met in secret session on a Long Island estate and made a fateful decision that virtually guaranteed a future crash and depression.
All this and much, much more transpired in that epochal summer of 1927, and Bill Bryson captures its outsized personalities, exciting events, and occasional just plain weirdness with his trademark vividness, eye for telling detail, and delicious humor. In that year America stepped out onto the world stage as the main event, and One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order.
From the Hardcover edition.
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    1

    Ten days before he became so famous that crowds would form around any building that contained him and waiters would fight over a corncob left on his dinner plate, no one had heard of Charles Lindbergh. The New York Times had mentioned him once, in the context of the coming Atlantic flights. It had misspelled his name.

    The news that transfixed the nation as spring gave way to summer in 1927 was a gruesome murder in a modest family home on Long Island, coincidentally quite close to Roosevelt Field, where the Atlantic fliers were now gathering. The newspapers, much excited, called it the Sash Weight Murder Case.

    The story was this: Late on the night of March 20, 1927, as Mr. and Mrs. Albert Snyder slept side by side in twin beds in their house on 222nd Street in a quiet, ­middle-­class neighborhood of Queens Village, Mrs. Snyder heard noises in the upstairs hallway. Going to investigate, she found a large ­man—­a "giant," she told ­police—­just outside her bedroom door. He was speaking in a foreign accent to another man, whom she could not see. Before Mrs. Snyder could react, the giant seized her and beat her so roughly that she was left unconscious for six hours. Then he and his confederate went to Mr. Snyder's bed, strangled the poor man with picture wire, and stove in his head with a sash weight. It was the sash weight that fired the public's imagination and gave the case its name. The two villains then turned out drawers all over the house and fled with Mrs. Snyder's jewels, but they left a clue to their identity in the form of an ­Italian-­language newspaper on a table downstairs.

    The New York Times the next day was fascinated but confused. In a big page-one headline it reported:

    Art Editor Is Slain in Bed;

      Wife Tied, Home Searched;

      Motive Mystifies Police

    The story noted that a Dr. Vincent Juster from St. Mary Immaculate Hospital had examined Mrs. Snyder and ­couldn't find any bump on her that would explain her six hours of unconsciousness. Indeed, he ­couldn't find any injuries on her at all. Perhaps, he suggested tentatively, it was the trauma of the event rather than actual injury that accounted for her prolonged collapse.

    Police detectives by this time, however, were more suspicious than confused. For one thing, the Snyder house showed no sign of forced entry, and in any case it was an oddly modest target for murderous jewel thieves. The detectives found it curious, too, that Albert Snyder had slept through a violent scuffle just outside his door. The Snyders' ­nine-­year-­old daughter, Lorraine, in a room across the hall, had also heard nothing. It also seemed strange that burglars would break into a house and evidently pause to read an anarchist newspaper before placing it neatly on a table and proceeding upstairs. Oddest of all, Mrs. Snyder's ­bed—­the one from which she had arisen to investigate the noise in the ­hallway—­was tidily made, as if it had not been slept in. She was unable to account for this, citing her concussion. As the detectives puzzled over these anomalies, one of them idly lifted a corner of mattress on Mrs. Snyder's bed and there revealed the jewels that she had reported stolen.

    All eyes turned to Ruth. She met the detectives' gazes uncertainly, then broke down and confessed the ­crime—­but blamed it all on a brute named Judd Gray, her secret lover. Ruth Snyder was placed under arrest, a search was begun for Judd Gray, and the...
About the Author-
  • BILL BRYSON's best-selling books include A Walk in the Woods, I'm a Stranger Here Myself, In a Sunburned Country, A Short History of Nearly Everything (which earned him the 2004 Aventis Prize), The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, and At Home. He lives in England with his wife and children.

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Bill Bryson offers up a chronicle of an eventful summer in American history: the summer of 1927. Bryson is an engaging narrator because of his evident interest in-- indeed, fascination with--the subjects he writes about. Informative and by turns wry, Bryson is enthusiastic, and his hint of a British accent is delightful as he describes a number of historical events: the fervor over Charles Lindbergh, Al Capone's singular success in the bootlegging trade, and the release of the first "talking picture." Bryson expertly ferrets out little known details and curiosities and tinges them with dashes of humor, making for a work chock full of facts that shed new light on the history you thought you already knew. S.E.G. (c) AudioFile 2013, Portland, Maine
  • The New York Times

    "Bryson writes in a style as effervescent as the time itself... A wonderful romp."

  • Wall Street Journal "...A skillful lesson on the dynamics and personalities that shaped today's America and on how far the country has evolved from a gaudy era fondly but imperfectly recalled."
  • People "There are two kinds of readers: those who love Bill Bryson and those who haven't met him yet... Colorful, rollicking and sweet, this is Bryson being Bryson. Which is to say: marvelous."
  • Booklist, Starred Review
    "A glorious look at one summer in America...Bryson offers delicious detail and breathtaking suspense about events whose outcomes are already known."
  • The Associated Press "This splendid book, written in the breezy and humorous style that has come to be Bryson's trademark, is sure to delight readers steeped in the history of the period as well as those looking to acquaint themselves with it for the first time."
  • Financial Times "Bryson will set you right in this canter through one summer of one year that--once you've turned the final page--will seem more critical to American history than you might have reckoned before... [He] is a master of the sidelong, a man who can turn obscurity into hilarity with seemingly effortless charm--and One Summer is an entertaining addition to a body of work that is at its best when it celebrates the unexpected and the obscure... This is a jolly jalopy ride of a book; Bryson runs down the byways of American history and finds diversion in every roadside stop."
  • Publishers Weekly "...Bryson himself is captivated by the events of summer, 1927. And why not? They included Charles Lindbergh's solo flight over the Atlantic, Sacco and Vanzetti's execution, Gutzon Borglum's start on the sculpting of Mt. Rushmore, the Dempsey-Carpentier fight, and Babe Ruth's 60 home runs--all of which Bryson covers in characteristically sparkling prose."
  • Chicago Tribune "As a historian, Bryson is the antithesis of stuffy. He's a storyteller, pure and simple, and One Summer is a collection of a great many tales about people and events, centered on (but not limited to) a single season in a single year... Bryson could have written a book just as interesting about the summer of 1949 or 1913. That's because his subject isn't really a year. It's human nature in all its odd and amazing array."
  • Library Journal "The book's strength is in showing the overlap of significant events and the interaction of personalities."
  • Minneapolis Star-Tribune "What comes across clearest in Bryson's lucid, lighthearted narrative is the pure energy and crazed optimism of the era. Sure, the rollicking party would end, but it was fun while it lasted--as is Bryson's One Summer."
  • The Telegraph "...One Summer wins you over by the sheer weigh tof its encyclopedic enthusiasms."
  • Liz Smith, The Huffington Post "Bryson is a marvelous historian, not only exhaustively accurate, but highly entertaining. If you avoid textbook histories because they seem too dry, pick up One Summer, or any other of Mr. Bryson's books. They are intelligent delights."
  • John McCain "Highly recommend One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson--interesting, entertaining visit to an incredible year."
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