Book review: 1922: Scenes from a Turbulent Year by Nick Rennison (Oldcastle Books, 2021)
1922 was a year of great turbulence and upheaval. Its events reverberated throughout the rest of the twentieth century and still affect us today, 100 years later.
Empires fell. The Ottoman Empire collapsed after more than six centuries. The British Empire had reached its greatest extent but its heyday was over. The Irish Free State was declared and demands for independence in India grew. New nations and new politics came into existence. The Soviet Union was officially created and Mussolini’s Italy became the first Fascist state.
In the USA, Prohibition was at its height. The Hollywood film industry, although rocked by a series of scandals, continued to grow. A new mass medium – radio – was making its presence felt and, in Britain, the BBC was founded. In literature it was the year of peak modernism. Both T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and James Joyce’s Ulysses were first published in full.
In society, already changed by the trauma of war and pandemic, the morals of the past seemed increasingly outmoded; new ways of behaving were making their appearance. The Roaring Twenties had begun to roar and the Jazz Age had arrived.
1922 also saw the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi, the death of Marcel Proust, the election of a new pope, the release of the first major vampire movie, and the brief imprisonment in Munich of an obscure right-wing demagogue named Adolf Hitler.
In a sequence of vividly written sketches, Nick Rennison conjures up all the drama and diversity of an extraordinary year.
Having spent three quarters of 2020 getting to know roleplaying characters who live in 1922, followed by falling in love with Boardwalk Empire, needless to say I find the 1920s fascinating. Came across this book on Netgalley, which is all about the year 1922. How could I resist?
It’s not a book meant to be academic, so it’s not a deep dive into the year in question, full of foot notes and such. Instead it’s fun and easy to read, and offers more of a taster of what was going on around the world so you can choose a topic to go and find out more about. There’s a list of recommendations at the back of the book which should prove helpful.
It’s fascinating how many things happened in that one year that we still know about today, like: after splitting the island of Ireland into two parts, the Irish Civil War started. They found Tutankhamun’s grave – who hasn’t heard of Tutankhamun these days? The Soviet Union was founded, and so on. Things that have reverberated through time. All happened in that one year, 1922. Other things are more specialist knowledge, admittedly, but is interesting to read about regardless.
The book is split into twelve chapters, one for each month. It starts off with a little summary blurb and then gives you a chronological run-down of memorable events in that month. Some are only about a half-page long, others run for several pages, because they need more context, or there’s simply much more to say about them. At times I would have wished for something to have been expanded on that wasn’t, but you can’t have everything.
It’s about events all over the world as well, so it isn’t about just one country. 2022 has so far turned out to be eventful, but mostly for all the wrong reasons, so it’s nice to be able to read about a time when life was simpler. I don’t know if 1923 was as fascinating, but if Nick Rennison would write a sequel, I’m more than happy to read that one as well.
4 out of 5 flappers.