Quarterly Book Review - Holdun

I’m sure it has happened to every one of us. You’ve read books by one of your favourite authors, and then he or she comes out with a book whose subject matter appears somewhat frivolous, so you decide to take a pass.

So it was with a book that I had mentally discarded, until recently at our monthly investment club, a member whose judgement I respect, recommended this particular book. The very next week, I took it out of our local library, read it, and decided I would share it with the recipients of this newsletter, many of whom will know the author and, quite possibly, the book in question.

What is quite remarkable is how many notable events took place over the course of one summer, in one country. And Bryson, the consummate story teller, weaves all of the disparate elements into a thoroughly entertaining, and sometimes instructive, tale.

There are mostly heroes in this story, though of quite different character. And, of course, what makes a
good story even better is a rivalry, and rivalries there were aplenty over the course of that summer:
Lindbergh and his numerous competitors, Ruth-Gehrig, Dempsey-Tunney,and so on.

There were also momentous events, some of which had lasting effects. One was the great Mississippi flood – the most epic natural disaster in American history – , which accelerated the movement of blacks out of the South, as well as forcing the federal government to recognize that it, and just not the states, had a role in flood prevention, the most significant result of which was the TVA.

It was also the summer when the world’s four top bankers secluded themselves on a Long Island estate, wrestling with matters far removed from anything remotely familiar to the average citizen, or so it would appear, until decisions taken in virtual secrecy that summer were to have dramatic consequences two years later.

I suspect my investment club colleague was recommending Bryson’s book as a cautionary tale, for the excesses one could easily witness, though not necessarily discern, in 1927, from the aforementioned heroes attracting millions of spectators to fee-paying events, to ordinary citizens paying a small fortune for Henry Ford’s Model T, or for a radio so they could listen to one of David Sarnoff’s networks, to investing in a stock market that seemed only to go in one direction, could very easily be repeated any moment, any day.

Bill Bryson, One Summer – America 1927, Doubleday

HOLDUN