Audiobooks Book Reviews Books for Adults Non-fiction Tell Me What to Read

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

When I picked One Summer: America, 1927 for Tell Me What to Read, I immediately requested the audiobook of it and it came up within just a day or two.

So, even though this was the book for March, I actually finished it back in February, because reading books out of the order I said I would is the kind of rebel I am (that is, a very lousy rebel). And . . . also a little behind on my February book.

This book is all about the summer of 1927 in the U.S. and that covers a wide range of topics, from Charles Lindbergh’s Atlantic flight, to Babe Ruth’s quest for the home run record, to Al Capone and bootlegging, and the changing car and movie industries.

Having read a whopping two whole Bill Bryson books now, I feel like I can say that this is a man who loves his details – if there is something to know about one of these events or people, you’ll find it out.

In some cases, this is awesome (I loved telling Bart about Babe Ruth who went to baseball training camp when he was super young and had basically no life experience and REALLY no sense of personal space/property, and a few weeks in, his roommate discovered to his horror that Babe had been using his toothbrush since the first day there), and in other cases, it’s just . . . long. There are so many people, dates, locations, and events packed into this book, that it’s fairly difficult to keep track of them all.

To keep myself from going nuts, I stopped trying to remember all the details and just enjoyed the flow of the story. Because Bill Bryson is also a phenomenal story teller and it was so fun to hear both retellings of stories I was pretty familiar with like Charles Lindbergh and his flight and ones I knew very little about, like Henry Ford and his Model T.

I am a history buff, but I don’t think you have to be really into history to enjoy this book. There’s just a lot of interesting stuff, and it’s the opposite of dry. There are a lot of very funny bits, and the writing is excellent – fast-paced and vivid.

It has been a few weeks since I finished it, and I’m still trying to figure out if it was better or worse to listen to it on audio. Several people mentioned that it could have used some editing (the paperback clocks in at 544 pages, so it’s not brief), and because I was listening, I didn’t necessarily feel like “wow, this is so long” because, hey, I was doing dishes and wasn’t bothered by some extra background about various historical characters.

But the book also jumps around a bit (at one point, I wondered if I had accidentally set it to shuffle (which I don’t think is actually possible in Overdrive), because I was losing my sense of narrative in it. With a paper book, it might have been easier to keep track of who was who, especially because this book has SO many people it is following.

The other book of his I’ve read is At Home: A Short History of Private Life for book club about 4 years ago, and I loved that one too, so it’s probably time to pick up one of his travel books. If you have a favorite, let me know and I’ll request it!

Digital audiobook checked out from my library

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  • Reply Janelle March 17, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Please read his "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." It's a compilation of essays he wrote after moving back to the US after many years living in the UK, and it is laugh.out.loud funny.

  • Reply Amy March 17, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    Do you have a goodreads account? I would love to be able to quickly see all the books you've read and how many stars you would give them without having to look back through all your old posts! Love your reviews! Thanks!

  • Reply Betsy March 17, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    I'm a huge Bryson fan. I think his books are best on audio when recorded in his own voice.

    "1927" and "At Home" are his longer, more detailed books. So if you've enjoyed these, you'll probably enjoy others even more.

    My favorites are "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," seconding Janelle above, and "A Walk in the Woods."

  • Reply Sarah in Ottawa March 17, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    I loved his Australian travelogue, originally called "I'm a Sunburned Country" but now published under the title "Down Under". I also loved "Notes from a Small Island", his UK travelogue from the early 90s and its recent sequel "The Road from Little Dribbling".

  • Reply Laura March 17, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I'm also a big Bill Bryson fan and recommend In a Sunburned Country for your next pick, hands down. I love that he reads his audiobooks; I think that a lot of little comments wouldn't seem nearly as funny in my mental-reading voice.

  • Reply Feisty Harriet March 17, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I both love and loathe Bryson's travel books. His earliest books wear on me after a few chapters, he's super sarcastic and unimpressed by EVERYTHING and, in general, he comes off as a jerk traveler you'd never want to emulate or follow. BUT, his later books are beautiful and make you want to travel to the places he went just to see what he saw. I'd definitely recommend "In A Sunburned Country" and "A Walk in the Woods" over any of his other travel books (and I've read another 4).

    Also, I thought this book could have used a solid edit of about 100 pages. I enjoyed reading it and was fascinated/horrified by the contents, but I think a good editor could have made it a lot tighter and better by chopping out 100-ish pages.


  • Reply Paige Flamm March 17, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    I added this to my list after I listened to one the podcasts that you recently did! I can't wait to read it! I started Wednesday Wars last night and it's seriously so funny I was laughing out loud while listening to the audio book in bed, which I'm sure is always an uncomfortable experience for Derek to watching.

  • Reply Unknown March 17, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    A walk in the woods is a must. And much shorter. It inspired my friends and I go hike a chunk of the Appalachian Trail after college graduation (after two days, we realized we had horribly inappropriate gear and hitch hiked back to our car so we could hit the beach the rest of the week).

  • Reply Jenny March 17, 2016 at 10:40 pm

    I'd recommend Notes from a Small Island (about the UK) or a Walk in the Woods. Non-fiction and not travel (but I really enjoyed it) is his science work A Really Short History of Nearly Everything.

  • Reply Saskia March 17, 2016 at 11:26 pm

    I loved _I'm a Stranger Here Myself_ especially since I recognized the jarring sense of not-quite-at-homeness that comes along with being an expat and then moving home again. And _A Walk in the Woods_ is good for outdoorsy people and non-outdoorsy people alike.

  • Reply Mad Hadder March 18, 2016 at 9:00 am

    I've read every word he's ever written. I consider him one of the greatest American writers alive–even though he's a self-proclaimed (and card-toting) Brit. Read Road to Dribbling, his newest.

  • Reply William Braylen March 18, 2016 at 12:17 pm

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  • Reply Tina's Blog March 18, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    I love Bill Bryson. The first book I read was A Walk in the Woods, but I went on a kick of reading everything of his I could find. I can't remember the title, but there is one book where he travels around the US. That is perhaps my favorite and my husband's as well.

    I know what you mean about too many details….I just finished up listening to Dead Presidents a bit ago and I loved it, but there were tons and tons of little facts. I just had to let it go and enjoy listening because there was no way I could remember everything.

  • Reply Emily March 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    The first of his books I read was Notes from a Small Island. It was fantastic (and quite a bit shorter than the short history of private life).

  • Reply Trishia Chee March 19, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    favorite book is Bryson's memoir The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Besides learning about his childhood, he ties in 1950s America in a humorous way. This book made me a fan, the way he skillfully writes non-fiction both funny and educational. Highest of recommendations!

  • Reply Jessica March 19, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Currently reading In A Sunburned Country and laughing out loud hysterically. (Although when I read the funny bits about cricket to my husband, he just stared at me.)

  • Reply Jessica March 19, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    Currently reading In A Sunburned Country and laughing out loud hysterically. (Although when I read the funny bits about cricket to my husband, he just stared at me.)

  • Reply Krista March 21, 2016 at 12:13 am

    I've read a few Bryson books and enjoyed them all, but A Sunburned Country is amazing. Especially the fact that, in the 1950s, Australia's prime minister went for a walk by the ocean and was never heard from again. How does that happen to a serving leader of a country???

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