Bestselling writer Bill Bryson stumbled upon the concurrence of Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight across the Atlantic the same summer that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. At first he thought he’d pen a dual biography, but after discovering a confluence of other events occurring at the same time, he wrote One Summer: America 1927 (Doubleday, Oct.). He remarks, “An extraordinary number of other important things also happened that summer—the dedication of Mount Rushmore, the filming of the first talking picture, the Great Mississippi Flood, the execution of the anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti, Calvin Coolidge’s surprising decision not to run for re-election, and a whole lot more. You could make a good case, and I hope I have, that it was the most eventful summer in modern American history. Yet nobody seems to have noticed that all these things happened at the same time and influenced each other.”
During his research, he discovered many surprising facts: “I hadn’t realized quite how extraordinary Charles Lindbergh’s achievement was in flying the Atlantic alone. He had never flown over open water before, but he flew straight to Dingle Bay in Ireland and then on to Paris, exactly as planned. That was a huge accomplishment with the technology of the day. When Richard Byrd flew the same route a month later with a copilot, radio operator, and navigator, they missed Ireland by 250 miles and couldn’t find Paris.”
His book also features a gallery of notorious bad guys like Al Capone and Charles Ponzi. Asked why criminals flourished in the ’20s, Bryson says, “There’d never been a more advantageous time to be a criminal in America than during the 13 years of Prohibition. At a stroke the American government closed down the fifth largest industry in the United States—alcohol production—and just handed it to criminals, a pretty remarkable thing to do. Overall, however, there was less violence than you would think, certainly less than movies and TV have led us to believe. Al Capone, for one thing, never clobbered anybody to death with a baseball bat.”
Today, Bryson signs galleys at the Doubleday booth (2739), 9:30–10:30 a.m., and is participating in the Audio Publishers Association Tea this afternoon, 4–5 p.m.