Another book that was immensely popular the summer of 1927 was the now-forgotten The President’s Daughter, a salacious tell-all by a woman who had a passionate affair with President Warren G. Harding while he was running the most corrupt White House in American history. The affair began years after Nan Britton developed a school-girl crush on Harding when he was a newspaper publisher.
“Harding was thirty-one years (Nan) Britton’s senior and was in any case engaged in a hot affair with his wife’s best friend — he truly was a bit of a dog — so a crush was as far as things ever seemed likely to go. But then Miss Britton did something that Warren Harding always found hard to resist: she grew into womanhood,” Bryson writes.
One Summer covers an enormous cast of characters that are deeply researched and rendered to entertain. Babe Ruth isn’t just an amazing baseball player. He’s a lovable rogue, a womanizing gambler who can’t keep his finances straight and can’t quite remember his mother’s name. Herbert Hoover is stiff and boring but exceptionally competent and politically astute. And in 1927, when he ran relief efforts during the Great Mississippi Flood, he was still well-liked.
“Soon he would be the most derided president of his time — quite an achievement for someone elected in the same decade as Warren G. Harding — but in the spring of 1927 he was, by a very wide margin, the world’s most trusted man,” Bryson writes. “He was also, curiously, perhaps the least likable hero America has ever produced.”
Bryson’s gathering of facts is impressive. He finds the strange trivia and surprising little coincidences that make history fun, and his breezy style and running commentary make for an enjoyable read.
Susannah Nesmith is a writer in Miami.