Thursday, November 28, 2013

One Summer by Bill Bryson

I am a big fan of Bill Bryson's work - Mother Tongue and A Short History of Nearly Everything are among my favourite books ever - but lately he seems to have gotten a little long-winded. His previous book, At Home, was just too long and rambling, and One Summer suffers from the same problem, if to a slightly lesser extent.

It's hard thing to balance, because part of what makes Bryson so good is his conversational style of prose and his knack for following any tangent that leads to an interesting anecdote - the problem to me seems that lately he is just going a bit too far with it, with too many unrelated tangents that don't quite meet the burden of interestingness.

Part of this is bound to vary from reader to reader, though. I loved the parts in One Summer about the race to cross the Atlantic, the changing nature of entertainment as plays gave way to radio and talking movies, and things of that sort. But a sizeable portion of the book is devoted to baseball and the life of Babe Ruth - a topic about which I give precisely zero fucks. Presumably readers with different interests would have different opinions, but in any case there is a trove of information on the 1920s that cannot be dismissed.

More than information, though, Bryson tries to convey the feel of the time - how it felt to be in America in the Jazz Age, when America was booming, both in terms of economic prosperity and in terms of international importance. In this he succeeds quite admirably - for example, you get a real sense of how crazy the public was about Charles Lindbergh, who was really the first proper celebrity.

Despite the fact that it loses marks for just being that bit too long, there is a lot packed into One Summer that is worth reading, and anyone with an interest in the 20s would find a lot to love in it.

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