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on 31 August 2014
How on earth one person can create a book, albeit a very long book, out of such an extreme diversity of events, developments, people and plain downright pecularity, that is quite simply riveting and entertaining and somehow holds itself together? That person can only be Bill Bryson. No idea how he does it, but this is a book that is great fun to read, will contribute at least one fact to quite possibly every subject you can think of, and by the end of it, make you feel as if you have been at the centre of a whirlwind. As America must have felt at the end of the four months of summer in 1927 - whew.

A lot happened or came to fruition over that four months. Bill Bryson would seem to touch on all of them in some way - amongst others the beginnings of television, talking films, manipulation of the US finanical system, Ponzi schemes, Al Capone, boxing, devastating floods in the Mississippi, Henry Ford's new Model T car. But of total dominance, overshadowing everything that occurred during that period are the trans Atlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh and the magnetic power of Babe Ruth - baseball and planes. You will learn a lot about both, much of which you never really needed or wanted to know, but because it is written about in such an engaging and conversational manner, somehow the facts, and there are many of them, do stay with you.

However this compendium of often quite bizarre, fancy that, overall useless but intensely fascinating informaton is not so much about April to September 1927, but about the years that lead up to the various events that reach their zenith over that particular year. The book more becomes a history, mostly social and economic of America during the 12-13 years since the end of WWI . So the list includes prohibtion, the prejudices and bigotry that evolved from the mass inflow of migrants from Europe, the seeds of eugenics and population control that reached its peak in Nazi Germany, the Ku Klux Klan, the pull of newspapers, America's love affair with skyscrapers, the weirdness of history makers like Henry Ford, Herbert Hoover, and so it goes on. An endless parade of events, people, and behaviours that quite frankly had me wondering how on earth America made it past 1927.

And it is riveting, endlessly fascinating reading written.
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on 8 November 2013
Is there any kind of book that couldn't be improved a thousandfold by getting Bill Bryson to write it? Already my favourite-books-list includes 'Mother Tongue' a glorious history of the English language, 'A Short History of Everything,' which wraps up a thousand years of science and 'At Home' which is a cosy history of domesticity. And I've lost count of the number of times I've recommended Bryson's 'Shakespeare'. So that's linguistics, science, and literary biography to add to the canon of travel books that Bryson is best known for, and now here he is with an off the wall volume of American History that packs about half a million little-known facts about the American Summer of 1927 into five hundred pages and somehow ends up creating the most compelling book I've read since ... well probably since the last Bill Bryson book.

Bryson has stumbled upon a magical and pivotal summer in US history, and in his infectious, folksy style he takes us on a romp from May to September introducing a riotous cast of characters that you simply couldn't invent. Take the writer Zane Grey, for example, who earned a third of a million dollars from his books in 1927. Bryson reveals that Grey's hobbies included compiling detailed journals of his sexual exploits, and being photographed in the act. 'Edgar Rice Burroughs,' Bryson tells us, 'had a tamer life than Grey - but then, after all, who didn't?' It is this deliciously conversational style, a compote of statistics and gossip, that makes this book so compulsively readable. The summer is bookended by two events that gripped the consciousness of America - Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic, and Babe Ruth's record breaking season with a baseball bat. I started the book with a level of interest very close to zero in either event, but finished up almost as delirious with excitement as the crowds who swarmed to see both heroes in action. It is a heavy book, and my arms were aching as I finished it. But it is an amazing and wonderful read. I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 24 February 2014
Wonderfully Bryson. Writes like a dream and rambles around, digs up obscure fascinating nuggets of information. Staggeringly elegantly written. That style is as important as the superb stories. If reading is a pleasure for the way words are used then this is a classic example. But it is important to read it slowly to make it last and or savour. I was fascinated to read the review of the ...person ... who gave it one star because they hadn't read it. Hilariously stupid. Read the other 5 star reviews and get a feel for this. One to comeback to in a year - there is too much here to absorb at a single sitting.
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on 27 September 2013
I have always found Bill Bryson to be one of the most consistent authors around; I await each of his books with eager anticipation and I am yet to be disappointed.

And so it is with "One Summer: America 1927".

The book itself has striking cover art and weighs in at an impressive 560 pages; the prologue and epilogue are separated by five main sections:

1. May: The Kid
2. June: The Babe
3. July: The President
4. August: The Anarchists
5. September: Summer's End

These in turn are then divided into a large number of chapters.

There are also nearly fifty glossy photographs split across two sections; these are great and really helped bring the text to life.

The book is written very much in the style we have come to expect from Bill Bryson, warm and funny whilst providing a constant stream of fascinating information, some of it well known but much of it new to me.

The concept itself of taking just a few months at a pivotal time in America's history is very clever and it really is fascinating to learn just how much was happening at that time; America was gripped with the pioneer spirit and it was quickly realising that it had the wealth and resources to do pretty much anything it wanted, and it did!

At the end of the book there is a section titled "Notes on Sources and Further Reading"; this is a brilliant addition and provides a wealth of recommended reading material to further the experience.

As with Bill Bryson's superb A Short History Of Nearly Everything this book manages to provide the reader with a detailed history lesson, yet at the same time it is incredibly accessible and makes the experience of learning fun, I just wish we had Bill Bryson writing our history books when I was at school (perhaps I would have gotten a better grade!).

Bring on Bill's next book!
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VINE VOICEon 21 November 2013
Everyone knows what an entertaining writer Bryson is, but if you read this expecting it to be side-splittingly funny I think you will be disappointed. While it is full of interesting nuggets it also sags badly at times. In particular, there is WAY too much about minor aviators who all start to sound the same. In fact, there is a bit too much of everything. Bryson clearly did a huge amount of research and you get the feeling he couldn't bear to leave anything out. So just as you are getting interested in Al Capone he veers off onto another tangent and you lose the thread. That's not to say there isn't some compelling stuff in the book, but overall I didn't think it lived up to his usual high standards of wit and entertainment.
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on 15 October 2013
This is Bryson at his best; witty, balanced, and immensely well researched. The contrast between the smug self-confidence of the USA and the social upheavals in Europe and in Britain in particular one year after the General Strike, at times make painful reading. In style and content it really deserves five stars, but I found many of the technicalities of baseball heavy going. My fault, of course, but I think a straightforward glossary of the game's terminology would have helped the English reader enjoy the book more.
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on 19 October 2013
I am a massive fan of Bill Bryson's writing, I have read all of his books and thoroughly enjoyed them, they've made me laugh and I've learned a lot. I was very excited to receive an advance review copy of his latest book, and I set about read it right away. Now it is a massive book, very heavy so it didn't fit in my handbag. In the end I read the book until the audiobook that I had pre-ordered downloaded and then I finished it off in audiobook format. I had the best of both worlds-the audiobook is read by bill Bryson and I could listen to it in the car on my commute, and the hardback is gorgeous with wonderful photographs, a super storable cover and a nice stocky length of book!

I really enjoyed this latest book. Although it wasn't as funny as some of his other writing, I learnt an awful lot about America during this period, a time that I actually learnt about during my history GCSE! The structure of the book was one of the things I enjoyed the most. Everything linked into something else. Lindbergh crossing the ocean had an impact on one thing and president Coolidge deciding not to run for president had an impact on something else, it was well structured and chronological at the same time. Bryson knows when a reader is likely to get fed up of one subject and swiftly moves onto another subject.

Even though this is a history of America and I live in the UK it stil, had an impact on things like television, war, flight, cars and so It was really interesting to learn about the origin and development of many of these things. I found the sections on prohibition and the movie industry really enjoyable and my knowledge of baseball has increased now by at east one thousand percent! Bill Bryson's tone is its usual chatty self meaning that, as a reader, you feel at ease with the narrative, you feel as if Bryson is talking to you and only you. His writing never makes you feel stupid and yet he doesn't really assume any prior knowledge, great when you are a Brit learning about American history and culture!

The best part of this book for me in the end was the epilogue. Now I love an epilogue in any kind of writing and love it in a fiction book when I get to find out what happened to all the characters, how they ended up and what the consequences of their actions were. This book did exactly that. Bryson wrapped up his book by revisiting all of the names mentioned in previous chapters and told us what had become of them all. I won't spoil any of it for you, but there were some real shockers there! I really enjoyed this book and if you have the time to read this, it is well worth it, I can recommend it in either format, or do as I did and read both!
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on 5 November 2013
As a long time fan of Bill Bryson who was beginning to think that his great days were past, this was a welcome return to something close to the form of old. A wonderful mixture of straight history and the grotesque. Though not laugh out loud, it was engaging and entertaining. Recommended.
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on 15 February 2017
Still haven't quite finished it, but it is truly amazing how much did happen in/around 1927. Oddly, many items in the media since I've read this book have made more sense, because I have an insight to the origins of those events and past history, that I never did before, purely owing to reading this book. Beautifully written and highly educational in the best of ways.
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on 22 February 2015
Absolutely adored this book. I've always found Bill Bryson to be a bit hit and miss - whilst A Short History of Nearly Everything was informative and entertaining, Notes from a Small Island didn't justify all the hype. Given my experience with Notes, I ordered One Summer with a vague sense of foreboding. How could something with so many positive reviews possibly live up to expectations? After all, Fifty Shades of Grey gets four stars out of five...

I'm so glad I bought it. How can a book with subject matter that is so fundamentally nerdy (historical anecdotes about sport and aviation, anyone?) be so compelling, so riveting? In many ways, I think Bryson manages this feat by doing what historians like Anthony Beevor and Max Hastings do: he makes dry historical events personal. I didn't give a stuff about 1920s baseball...until Bryson told me about the booze, the affairs, the money and the almost ridiculous dedication of a man who was determined to carry on playing top-level sport even though his physical infirmity meant he would die if he slept lying down.

My only issue with this book is that if you read it, you will constantly regale your loved ones with random facts and stats about the 1920s which, without the human perspective provided by Bryson's backstories, will bore your spouse, children, parents and podiatrist to death. Because of this book, I now live alone, and my feet are no longer as well-tended as they once were. However, I consider this a price worth paying and look forwards to Mr Bryson's next foray into social history.
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