Ruminations: One Sensational Summer

There are two qualities I look for when buying or borrowing a book.

Published January 8, 2014 5:00 AM
3 min read


There are two qualities I look for when buying or borrowing a book.


By John A. Schwarz


There are two qualities I look for when buying or borrowing a book. One is that it is entertaining and the other is that it is educational. I didn’t come up with that piece of advice, a very good friend of mine did. He and I are in a book club with 13 other guys and we always rate a book we’ve read based on the two E’s.


Sometimes we’ve read a book that was hysterically funny but we learned nothing new from it. Others may have been filled with hitherto unknown facts, but were deadly boring and ones in which we couldn’t wait to get to … The End!


In the two-E category, few writers are as dependable as Bill Bryson. In his latest work of non-fiction, “One Summer, America 1927,” you find yourself thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know that.” In many instances, you have to put the book down because you’re laughing so loud. Needless to say, “One Summer, America 1927” earned extremely high marks from our group.


Among the numerous and notable subjects Bryson covers are: the transition from silent films to talkies; the Sacco-Vanzetti and Ruth Snyder-Judd Gray murder cases; and the rise and fall of Charles Ponzi of Ponzi Scheme fame, who so inspired Bernie Madoff and Allen Stanford. In sports, you’ll read fascinating vignettes on Bill Tilden, Jack Dempsey and, of course, very interesting facts about Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the 1927 Yankees, the greatest baseball team ever.


Americans have, understandably, felt that air travel began here. After all, the Wright brothers built the first plane that got off the ground on North Carolina’s Outer Banks in 1903. Not only that, but Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean — in that year of years, 1927, in case you didn’t know. What the American reader learns, to his or her astonishment, is, that after World War I, the rest of the world was far ahead of us in aviation until Lindbergh’s solo flight.


The first airline wasn’t Pan American or TWA, which is what I would have guessed, but KLM in 1919. Qantas got off the ground the following year. Delta was the first American airline and it was started in 1924. While European airlines were flying passengers all over Europe, our aviators were putting on demonstrations at state fairs, taking people up for an hour’s flight. The mortality rate of pilots carrying the mail was horrific.


The great shipping lines, such as Cunard, Holland-America, and The French Line, had their ships catapulting planes out at sea several hundred miles from land so the very wealthy could reach London, Paris, Amsterdam a day early. These had to be very rich dolts. Nobody would [a] give up a day at sea, say on the SS Île de France, dining on steak au Poivre with pommes frites, sipping a particularly good cabernet sauvignon, and finishing off a superb meal with crème brûlée, or [b] take the risk that the little two-seater wouldn’t do a header into the sea 50 feet after leaving the ship.


I can state, unequivocally, that you’ll [a] learn an amazing amount reading this book, and [b] have a lot of giggles and laughs along the way.


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