Bohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: A book review by Bob Morris

BohemiansBohemians, Bootleggers, Flappers, and Swells: The Best of Early VANITY FAIR
Edited by Graydon Carter with David Friend
Penguin Press (2014)

Yes, Virginia, there really is a machine in which you can return in time to the United States: 1913-193

Working with David Friend, Graydon Carter has selected and edited material that originally appeared in VANITY FAIR during a 1913-1936 timeframe: the 1910s, 20s, and 30s. Of course, this is also among the most interesting – and complicated – periods during U.S. history, what with World War One, the Roaring 20s, the emergence of Hollywood and network radio, the stock market crash, the Great Depression, and early indications that another war may be near.

I am a long-time subscriber to VANITY FAIR and read this book the same way I read each issue: I give each article a chance (no matter who wrote it) and if it has little (if any) traction after a page or two, I move on. There are some celebrity contributors (at least at that time) represented in this volume — notably Sherwood Anderson, Robert Benchley, Noël Coward, Clarence Darrow, T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, John Maynard Keynes, D.H. Lawrence, Walter Lippmann, Thomas Mann, Edna Saint Vincent Millay, A.A. Milne, Gertrude Stein, Walter Winchell, P.G. Wodehouse, and Thomas Wolfe. Predictably, the subjects are all over the proverbial “map” within the worlds of economics, the arts, and entertainment, broadly defined. The book is best viewed as an elaborate and extensive buffet rather than as a seven-course dinner.

Others have identified the selections of greatest interest and value to them. I pass on that, preferring to suggest that anyone who works their way through this volume will find far more than enough material to enjoy and appreciate, with probably some of it provided by people whose names they did not recognize when scanning the Contents.

One final point: I returned to this collection several times after the first interaction and, each time, found something entertaining and/or informative that I missed previously.

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