The summer of 2013 has come and gone, but Bill Bryson wants to tell you about the summer of 1927.
“It was the most magical and eventful summer that any nation has had — in peacetime, anyway,” said Bryson, the author of many travel and history books — many of them funny — including the bestseller “A Walk in the Woods” about an ill-conceived hiking trip along the Appalachian Trail.
His newly published book, “One Summer: America 1927,” explores the seemingly endless array of events — the profound and the poppycock — that occurred in that four-month period, including the first trans-Atlantic flight by Charles Lindbergh, the record-setting 60th home run by Babe Ruth, and the filming of the first popular “talkie” film (“The Jazz Singer”). The public was transfixed by a sensational murder case — a man killed by his wife and her lover — that became fodder for James Cain’s novels (later to become films) “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Double Indemnity.” Work began on Mount Rushmore.
“A lot of it has no lasting consequence. It was the peak of flagpole sitting,” said Bryson, explaining Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly’s 12-day stunt atop a flagpole in Newark, N.J., in June of that year. “But in their own ways, they are momentous events.”
Bryson was in Philadelphia this week, right before launching a book tour, for the Philadelphia Speakers Series at the Kimmel Center. He started researching the summer of 1927 because he was fascinated by the two unlikely achievements by Lindbergh and Ruth.
“I never quite understood why Lindbergh was so venerated as an aviator, why is was such a big deal,” said Bryson during an interview at Widener University. “I understood even less how Babe Ruth could possibly be such an athlete. If you’ve seen film footage of him, he had a pot belly, had stick legs, and ran with a strange, mincing gait.”