“Britain’s favourite writer of narrative non-fiction Bill Bryson travels back in time to a forgotten summer when America came of age, took centre stage, and, in five eventful months, changed the world for ever.”



In 1927, Charles Augustus Lindbergh set out to cross the Atlantic in a small, converted mail plane, The Spirit of St Louis. This is the central theme of Bill Bryson’s latest book, One Summer.

In typical Brysonian style, however, the main thread is woven through a vastly more complex tapestry depicting, in this case, the world and the US in particular of the the age.

So we are treated to discourses on the trial and conviction of renowned and murderous adulterers Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray, Prohibition and the downfall of the gangster chief Al Capone. Bryson ponders the catastrophic weather in the Midwest that year and the response of Herbert Hoover to the biblical floods that followed. And so on and so forth and in greater or lesser detail, according to the author’s whim.

Indeed, this is a long and prodigiously meandering book and Bryson’s ponderous sojourn into the rise, fall and rise again of Babe Ruth and the world of inter-war baseball does rather break the flow. The man is a self-confessed baseball fanatic and the chapter on the subject wavers between interesting and dull. Consequently, you may weary occasionally, as my wife did, and find yourself skipping the odd chapter (as I did). On balance though, One Summer is still an absorbing and informative read.

And also an entertaining one. He is a great humorist and raconteur and I wonder that a dinner or evening in the pub in his company must surely be a fascinating and enjoyable one. Bryson also has a wonderful turn of phrase.

“…he became engaged to a young New York socialite with the unimprovably glorious name of Cosuelo Hatmaker”

“Captain William Waters, an American of amiable anonymity…”

This trait is not given full rein, as it has been in his previous writings, which is a shame. Books like A Walk in the Woods, A Short History of Nearly Everything and Mother Tongue successfully blended humour with history, entertainment with education and, while one might occasionally have questioned Bryson’s veracity, he could never be faulted for failing to engage /and/ inform his readers. One Summer doesn’t fly quite so high in drawing laughs from the cheap seats.

Nevertheless, this remains an enjoyably immersive read, and a highly recommended one and, if it loses the occasional member of the audience every now and then, well, perhaps that is a small price to pay.

Review reproduced here with kind permission of:

Campbell McAulay

Added 18th March 2015

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Campbell McAulay