Winner of the Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal for Best Regional Nonfiction in the Southwest
The story of how Florida became entwined with Americans’ 20th-century hopes, dreams, and expectations is also a tale of mass delusion, real estate collapses, and catastrophic hurricanes. The Fantasy of Florida hones in on the experiences of William Jennings Bryan and Edwin Menninger, the two men who shaped the image of Florida that we know today and who sold that image as America’s paradise. The cast of characters also includes the Marx Brothers, Thomas Edison, Al Capone, and Mark Twain. A tale of a colorful and tragicomic era during which the allure and illusion of the American Dream was on full display—a Jazz Age period when Americans started chasing what F. Scott Fitzgerald called “the orgiastic future”—the book reveals how the recent economic collapse in Florida is eerily similar to events that happened there between 1925 and 1928. What sets the mid-1920s’ Florida land boom apart from more recent booms-and-busts, however, is that this was the first modern boom, the first time that emerging new technologies, mass communications and modern advertising techniques were used to sell the nation on the notion that prosperity and happiness are simply there for the taking. Florida’s image as a place where the rules of everyday life don’t apply and winners go to play was formed during this dawn of the age of consumerism when Americans wanted to have fun and make lots of money, and millions of them thought Florida was the perfect place to do that.
Willie Drye has been a reporter/journalist for 30 years, with a recent specialty in covering hurricanes for National Geographic. His book Storm of the Century was made into a documentary for the History Channel.