Nathan Miller has a way with history. He also has a way with words. In New World Coming, he explores the events of the 1920s -- the faces and places, the writers and builders, the bars and wars. He hooks the reader on the first page and slowly reels her into an America not so very different from the one we know today in terms of politics and mores, yet very different in terms of technology and potential. Following the life and fortunes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, as they romp through the Roaring Twenties, Miller presents them as literary figures representative of their times and the ebullient partiers who blew Victorian stuffiness out the window.
Miller shows how the First World War impacted the events of this decade. He describes how Prohibition changed American commercial and social activities. He notes how the Nineteenth Amendment enacted in 1920 didnít really change the proportion of voters in each party because women overwhelmingly voted as their husbands did. He discusses how the automobile impacted both national and local goals. He covers the big names of the decade and how they changed the country and the country changed them. Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge -- who they were and how they came to be elected, what political trends raised them up and what dynamics brought them down. Then there are the names that linger in the mind for other reasons -- William Jennings Bryan, Elliot Ness, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford, Leopold and Loeb, H. L. Mencken, Margaret Sanger.
Documented with an extensive bibliography, I have no reason to doubt Millerís scholarship. However, what makes his work intriguing isnít so much the accurate chronology of historical events but the careful analysis. He sets the stage. Explains the issues. Explores the philosophies of the age. Compares what was then to what is now. It is very much a view of the past through a twenty-first century prism. Why Wilson plunged the United States into World War I seems human and downright silly as things like that often do once enough time has passed. Warren Hardingsí longsuffering and devoted wife seems quite modern given the display of spousal betrayal and loyalty in the 1990s. The popularity of Aimee Semple McPherson in the 1920s corresponds with the rise of modern TV evangelists who preach the gospel and plead for more and more money from their audiences. Her downfall parallels that of Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swagert. Their rebound reflects her return to the pulpit. Finally, the frenetic business environment where everything and anything seems possible bursts and the market crashes, just as six decades later the "dotcom boom" implodes.
Millerís work has the power to make the reader think as few history books do. If you are interested in linkages and trends, if you are one of those people who always needs to know why, New World Coming is a must read. Itís a great resource for those of us who write. However, if you just want to browse through time, itís a good vehicle for that, too.