THE United States has just rounded out a truly amazing decade. Most everyone is aware of a number of changes and remembers that much went on, but few have a complete mental picture such as this book gives. Racing madly from topic to topic through 350 highly compressed pages, Mr. Allen still can only touch on the high spots. But the quantity of the material is even more surprising than the content. An evening or so spent reading this book is far more entertaining and absorbing than a movie. It does, in fact, give the impression of a colossal comedy (or better tragedy) of errors as this animated tableau is unwound before the reader's eyes.
As the author begins by telling what Mr. Everyman did in 1919, one is immediately aware of the fact that the book is going to be extraordinarily interesting. Next comes the tragedy of a mutual misunderstanding and sordid politics--Wilson vs. the people, followed by the Big Red Scare, bombs, strikes, riots, supper-patriots, ending with an unparalleled burst of brutal intolerance and monstrous bigotry. There is an excellent account of the Harding scandals, which were revealed over such a long period that they are always vague. Then the Coolidge Prosperity Bandwagon gets rolling and sweeps all before its high pressure salesmanship and concentrated ballyton. The Florida boom is used as a preface to the Big Bull Market and its child the Crash, which is treated well, simply and understandably. The arrival of the new morality, along with its unwanted offspring the confession, magazines, tabloids, etc., is traced, and alcohol and Al receive their due share of space. The steady jeering of Mencken, Lewis, and the highbrows is allowed to echo through the book's pages and upon finishing, one can understand why Mencken once answered the question of why he stays in America by, why do people go to zoos.
This work cannot be recommended too highly. It is not scholarly and is good for that reason. It probably will not live long but should be read today by anyone who wishes to be well informed or intends to understand America in the doldrums. It is as entertaining as it is thorough, and the author's selection of material is excellent. He writes from a liberal bias but it gives an impression that he is free from prejudices. He does not hesitate to give conclusions as well as more than enough facts for the reader to form his own conclusions. The most serious error is the author's idea that it was a temporary aberration which has passed now. He traces the development of romance in the common man's life through the rise of the hero-worship mania but concludes that it is dying out--the book was written before the spectacle of the Lindbergh baby incident.