The 1920s are second only to the 1960s when one considers the seismic changes to society over that decade. They occupy a mythical space in the psyche and conjure up mental pictures of flappers, Bertie Wooster, Tamara de Lempicka's angular brush strokes, and the Art Deco movement with its brutal minimalism and streamlining. Just like the 1960s however, most of this mythology is misplaced. The movers and shakers of society represented a tiny proportion of the population, most of whom lived in abject poverty. Celebrities like Charles Lindbergh, an all American good-looking hero and the first to fly directly over the Atlantic ocean, or Al Capone, who ruled the roost in Chicago through threats and violence during prohibition, were distractions from the daily grind of life during tough times. Tough times that got tougher after the Wall Street Crash in 1929 leading to the great depression of the 1930s.
The author Lucy Moore chooses to overlook this, although her preferences are signposted with the strapline, 'A Biography of the Roaring Twenties'. The book is divided into a series of essays, each essay focusing on a figurehead or movement that celebrated the era. Unfortunately Moore chooses her themes unwisely. Scott Fitzgerald's fiction was a revelation and catapulted him into the public eye. He was drawn to the exotic socialite Zelda Sayre – a neurotic and mentally unstable muse whose infidelities, drug and alcohol abuse scandalised New York society. Whilst this may be worthy of a paragraph or two, Moore labours her point and by foregrounding Zelda's avant garde proclivities, she only succeeds in detracting from the tenet of her argument.
Harry Crosby was a Bostonian poet born into a wealthy banking family in New England. After narrowly avoiding death in WWI he elected to live life to the full by having open affairs with unsuitable partners and by decamping to Paris – then the cultural capital of the world. Crosby drank himself to death and is considered one of the lost generation of American literature. The reality is Crosby has become little more than a footnote in literary history, and his position is based primarily on lifestyle rather than output. Yet Crosby devotes one of her essays to this impetuous, privileged drunk and his peccadilloes.
The biggest problem with Lucy Moore's book is the sequence of disparate stand-alone essays do not convey a visualisation of the 1920 in the slightest. There is no attempt to link or weave the narrative together, and no attempt to draw conclusions on the research she has undertaken. Her strapline of the 1920s being 'Roaring' may well be the case for a select handful, but for the rank and file life would have been more of a whimper.