Bestselling author Bill Bryson has covered a range of topics over the years. He wrote about science in A Short History of Just About Everything. He detailed his travel through the Appalachian Trail in A Walk in the Woods. And he outlined the idiosyncrasies of the English language in Made in America.
In his latest offering, One Summer: America, 1927, Bryson maintains his signature humorous tone as he offers historical tidbits covering a four-month time span in American history.
The summer of 1927 was full of momentous events, said Bryson, sandwiched by Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic and Babe Ruth's record-setting 60 home runs.
While Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic was notable because it was the longest successful non-stop flight to date, according to Bryson, the greater accomplishment on Lindbergh's part was convincing St. Louis businessmen to fund the flight.
"Lindbergh was a very bad bet," said Bryson. "He was a kid. He’d only been flying for about four years….if he were to come to you for money, you’d be dubious."
Lindbergh did not handle the limelight well, and eventually fell into infamy due to his ties to Nazi Germany.
Babe Ruth, on the other hand, lives on as an American icon. But he too had a dark side as a heavy drinker and as a womanizer. The amazing thing about Ruth, said Bryson, was that on top of being an extraordinary baseball player, he was "an unquestionably nice guy" despite a difficult childhood.
"He grew up in an orphanage, not because his parents were dead but because his parents didn’t want him," said Bryson. "If that had happened to me I would have been embittered."
Prohibition was also in full swing during 1927. Bryson called it "probably the worst social experiment conducted anywhere ever" because people continued to drink, but in more dangerous ways.
In researching the book, Bryson discovered that the U.S. government deliberately put poison in random batches of industrial alcohol during Prohibition. This alcohol was legal, as it was intended for such things as paint thinner. But the government knew that people were converting it into drinkable alcohol and added poison anyway. The thought was that if people had friends or family become blind, crippled or die because of drinking alcohol, they would be less likely to drink it themselves.
Among the other topics covered in the book are the rise of Talkies, innovations in building televisions, and people's prurient interest in scandalous trials.
In short, said Bryson, 1927 was a period of transition for the country, a time in which "America was discovering itself."
St. Louis Speakers Series Presents Bill Bryson
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Powell Hall, 718 N. Grand Blvd.
For more information, call 314-534-1700 or visit the St. Louis Speakers Series website.