51 pages 1 hour read

Bill Bryson

One Summer: America, 1927

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 2013

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Summary and Study Guide


In his national best-selling book One Summer: America, 1927, author Bill Bryson recounts the dramatic history and legacies of the summer of 1927 in the United States. Though it is a work of nonfiction, Bryson writes the story with a structured narrative complete with foreshadowing and cliffhangers. Readers progress through the summer with hints of the dramatic twists and turns to come while experiencing Bryson’s analysis of the implications and importance of this period in history.


Bryson organizes the book in parts that correspond to each month of the summer of 1927, beginning with May and ending with September. Each part also has a central figure, though Bryson discusses each of the main characters throughout the book.

The section on May centers on aviator Charles Lindbergh, who won the famed Orteig Prize when he became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. Lindbergh accomplished the feat on May 21. Bryson demonstrates the new era of celebrity that this monumental moment produced. The rest of the book follows Lindbergh as he endures the tumultuous benefits and drawbacks of fervid fame, including the danger of rowdy crowds.

Part 2, “June,” is titled “The Babe” in honor of Babe Ruth, one of the greatest baseball players of all time and certainly the best of the early 20th century. It was in 1927 that Ruth, with the New York Yankees baseball team, had one of the most remarkable seasons of his decorated career. Of particular import and excitement was professional baseball’s first-ever “home run race” in which two players steadily increased their home run counts to record-setting numbers. As the summer progressed, baseball fans were positively giddy watching Ruth and fellow Yankee Lou Gehrig compete for the top number.

The next part of the book centers on President Coolidge, though former president Warren G. Harding and future president Herbert Hoover are also important to the narrative. President Coolidge, though a central figure to both Bryson’s book and American society in 1927, did very little compared to the other major historical actors in the book. In July, the Coolidges were enjoying a prolonged trip to South Dakota, where the president regularly fished and spent time outdoors doing country activities. The White House staff operated from there as well. The US economy boomed during the 1920s, and “Silent Cal” Coolidge received credit and adoration for what was almost an entirely hands-off approach to governing. Bryson highlights the vastly different position of the presidency in the early 20th century.

The part dedicated to August centers not on beloved celebrities and leading public figures, but instead on two Italian immigrants who the state executed in August, 1927, for an anarchic murder committed years earlier. The trial and outcome were certainly shaped by anti-immigrant, anti-Italian sentiment in the United States, for the actual evidence against the two men—Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti—was arguably inconclusive. After countries across Europe celebrated American aviators and envied the American economy earlier in the summer, people across Europe and beyond violently protested the execution and the blatant bigotry of the American judicial and political systems.

The final section of the book, “Summer’s End,” discusses various industries, developments, and legacies that shaped American history at the time but were not covered in the intersecting stories recounted previously in the book. Bryson discusses bigotry more directly and analytically and details some dark manifestations of it, namely Ku Klux Klan violence and eugenics. He also discusses radio and early television technology and American literature. He highlights in this final section that the summer of 1927 represented a tumultuous and impactful moment in US history, characterized by a new generation and type of celebrity, new approaches to media, and major advancements in technologies of various sorts.

An epilogue follows up on many tidbits on the periphery of the main story and wraps up the major storylines. It traces the downfall of Charles Lindbergh in the public imagination as a final reminder that the “roar” of the 1920s could not last forever.