This is a history, portrayed by flashes of lightning, of the remarkable twenty-three years from the death of Warren Harding to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. And what a twenty-three-year period it was. It encompassed the hectic years of speculative prosperity in the 1920s; the deadly blasting of hope in the depressed 1930s; the rise of Hitler and the years of bitter warfare that followed.

Spotlighting presidents and kings, movie stars and speakeasy hostesses, singers and criminals, welfare recipients and millionaires, this slightly irreverent history covers momentous events from the Women’s Suffrage movement to Rosie the Riveter, from the Model T to the V-8, from Charles Lindbergh to Amelia Earhart, from the Depression to full employment, from Goddard’s first rocket to the atomic bomb, from uneasy peace to World War iI. But history isn’t only banner headlines and that’s what makes From Harding to Hiroshima unique. This book includes all the wonderful detail of the time, too, such as:

  • In 1928 Chicago police estimated the number of stills in one area of the city to be 100 per block.
  • In Delaware, wife beating was punished by 30 lashes in public; setting fire to the courthouse, 60 lashes.
  • For $49 million, North Carolina’s Trinity College changed its name to Duke.

By paying equal attention to the main events and the sideshows, the stars and the bit players, From Harding to Hiroshima makes history come alive.

I must confess that I came to this book with a certain amount of trepidation. The other books Asimov did for Red Dembner, in which he also served mostly as a glorified fact-checker, are books I particularly dislike: Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts and Isaac Asimov Presents Superquiz and its children.

To my astonishment, I actually enjoyed this book quite a bit. It’s well-written, entertaining, and surprisingly informative, helping someone born well after the 1920’s through 1940’s appreciate many of the cultural references to that era that still populate our language and lives.

I’m not sure how much work Asimov did in terms of writing this book. In some books, such as Robots: Machines in Man’s Image, one can see clearly which parts Asimov contributed and which his co-author wrote. Here, it’s harder. There are some passages written with a surprisingly familiar, unadorned style and others which are obviously not by Asimov. It doesn’t matter, however, in some sense—even if Boardman wrote every sentence, I’d still enjoy it.

If the book has one flaw, it’s that it tends to fall apart as it gets to World War II, where the anecdotal nature of the narrative tends to break down and one loses any real sense of the complexity of the war. One comes away with a much better sense of the 1920’s and 1930’s being illuminated than the 1940’s. Still, on the whole, I enjoyed it a great deal and do not writhe at the thought of rereading it.

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