51 pages 1 hour read

Bill Bryson

One Summer: America, 1927

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2013

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Important Quotes

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“People in 1920s America were unusually drawn to spectacle, and by ten o’clock that evening the crowd had grown to an estimated one hundred thousand people—an enormous gathering for a spontaneous event.” 

(Prologue, Page 2)

The event referenced in this passage was an enormous fire at a New York hotel in early 1927. This example, which occurred just months before the timeline of the main story in the book, highlights important themes that Bryson explores throughout. He mentions explicitly that Americans in the 1920s sought out spectacle. Furthermore, those spectacles were often dangerous or outright disasters. These events were live, public, urban, and drew huge crowds. Though the fire was unplanned, many of the big events in the book were scheduled stunts, performances, and contests. People craved live entertainment with the excitement and uncertainty of reality and the drama of stories playing out in real time.

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“The 1920s was a great time for reading altogether—very possibly the peak decade for reading in American life. Soon it would be overtaken by the passive distractions of radio, but for the moment reading remained most people’s principal method for filling idle time.” 

(Chapter 1, Page 27)

Beyond the real-time entertainment of public spectacles, journalists with, in many cases, little regard for accuracy but a flare for drama sent coverage of events to an eager readership. People were fascinated by the news and read installments of events such as legal trials and the aviation race with interest. This particular form of disseminating information characterized the 1920s differently than any other decade. Previously, the United States had been much more rural, and there were fewer crowds and large cities to generate stories with large scopes.