1920: The Year that Made the Decade Roar, Eric Burns

I am intrigued with the 1920s and I’ve always wanted to know more about them. Last year, I was really interested in World War I and I read several books of that nature. But just like World War II is incomplete without the reconstruction efforts, so is World War I incomplete with reconstruction. This text provides an interesting thesis regarding the reconstruction efforts post-World War I.

The thesis that Eric Burns purports essentially is this: the 1920s typified an era that dealt with social, political, and economic problems that we still face today. It opened a way for the rest of the “boom” of the 1920s era and with it prosperity and upheaval.

Some of the areas that Burns looks at are:

Prohibition – an example of government regulation and the deregulation of the 1920s

Margaret Sanger and Susan B. Anthony – female birth control and woman suffrage, respectively: an example of the feminist movement of the 1960s and the debate over women’s rights that has continued until the present.

The Ponzi Scheme – a now illegal business practice in which one person promises an investment return to many people and profits from the pool of money but is short when a run occurs. Made famous by Charles Ponzi who utilized and made famous such a scheme in 1920. Typifies the dark side of capitalism and the problems with deregulation.

Wall Street bombing – one of the first examples of domestic terrorism in America. An example of the modern War on Terrorism.

The Rise of Jazz – Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver and others brought this truly American art form to the forefront, starting in New Orleans and then moving to centers like Chicago and New York.

Woodrow Wilson – By the time the 1920s rolled around, Wilson was just a figurehead. His wife was the real “President.” Also an example of the sex war in this country.

F. Scott Fitzgerald – an example of the excesses of the 1920s.

There are other threads that are spun throughout this book, but these are just some of the more memorable ones. Burns makes a compelling argument and weaves them together through a journalistic perspective. This has been enough to get my palette wet for more.

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