(I initially gave it four stars, then upgraded it to five - I really like this book, and the way it was informative without being overwhelming.)
Towards the end of this book, Bryson describes a visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where the Spirit of St Louis
) is displayed, followed by a range of other aircraft developed in the wake of Lindbergh's crossing of the Atlantic. Looking at a modern Douglas DC-3 (see photo
for comparison), 'the first truly modern airliner' developed in 1935 and launched in 1936, Dr Alex M. Spencer, senior curator showing Bryson around, says:
'And this all happened in less than a decade (...) That's what Lindbergh's flight achieved.'
'But wouldn't it have happened anyway?' I ask.
'Sure,' Spencer agrees. 'But it wouldn't have happened so fast and it wouldn't have been so overwhelmingly American.'
And this is largely what the book is about - it shows the events of summer 1927 which turned the Unites States from a rather peripheral place in the eurocentric world into a country of huge technological and cultural consequence.
Still, Bryson is by no means uncritical - he discussed the notorious stealing of one another's ideas, the absurdities and hypocrisies of Prohibition, racism (I had no idea racial segregation affected the Italians to such a degree!) and American fascination with eugenics (the epilogue contains a mindboggling record of Anne Lindbergh's reaction to Kristallnacht pogrom, which coincided with the moment the Lindberghs seriously considered moving to Germany - she seemed to be affected by how 'brutal and undisciplined' it was, but not necessarily by antisemitism itself.
Overall, this is a great read; I love Bryson's ability to represent almost every event as a wonderful coincidence; to sketch further lives of minor historical figures AFTER they became famous of nearly so; of showing how events he presents make people whose stories he describes come together; essentially - of making us care about what happened in the Twenties, and to whom.