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Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  395 ratings  ·  74 reviews
Christopher Knowlton, author of Cattle Kingdom and former Fortune writer, takes an in-depth look at the spectacular Florida land boom of the 1920s and shows how it led directly to the Great Depression.

The 1920s in Florida was a time of incredible excess, immense wealth, and precipitous collapse. The decade there produced the largest human migration in American history, far
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published January 14th 2020 by Simon Schuster
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Jeanette (Again)
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars

I'll confess to feeling more than a frisson of schadenfreude at the final fates of the foolish fellows most responsible for the spectacular crash of the Florida real estate boom in the 1920s. They all died impoverished and in poor health, victims of their own greed and extravagant living.

These men made mountains of money early in the boom, and they could have lived richly for the rest of their lives on that money. But their greed and egos and need for prestige knew no bounds. They had
Oct 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Bubble in the Sun is a work of non-fiction which details the Florida land boom that took place about 100 years ago. It’s an age old story of rich men behaving badly. Something that doesn’t surprise us today. Greed, status, wealth, power. Florida has seen it all. This is the story of the real estate moguls Carl Fisher, George Merrick and Addison Mizner. While they helped to create South Florida, their ambition ultimately led to their ruin. Not one of the men profiled survived the boom with his fo ...more
Jul 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, florida
At the turn of the century, Florida was nothing but swampland. It was considered a frontier state with a sparse population. Then came the tycoons, among them Flagler and Rockefeller with their money and ventures and followed by droves and droves of people. The author documents the development of hotels and golf courses by rich men for rich people. It is an interesting story of how Florida became such a densely populated state. I always thought well of Mr. Flagler as so many buildings, roads, pla ...more
David Wineberg
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
It all started with Standard Oil money. Henry Flagler, Rockefeller’s partner (who John D. called the brains of the Standard Oil Trust) retired from the company and discovered the new frontier – Florida. Like a Jeff Bezos pushing into outer space, Flagler spent what today would be billions developing land in Florida and building a railway to and through it. This opened the state to freight and passengers, and the madness of the bubble began. Where mere mortals saw swamps, clouds of mosquitos and ...more
Michael Perkins
I've done a bestseller on the tech stock bubble, so the dynamic of this bubble, especially the irrational psychology behind it (FOMO) was very familiar.

The book really has no story arc. It's largely episodic, full of a lot of detail, which makes for a choppy read. But I think the formula was clear. The tycoons were selling average people something that was too good to be true. They were told there was a chance you could "flip" the "land" you bought to someone else and pocket the gain. Too much o
Jan 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very informative book full of personality telling a little-known chapter of American history. Knowlton does a great job introducing and connecting the various players across the decades of Florida's real estate boom. This book gave me a whole new understanding of the development of Florida and the effect real estate speculation has on the overall economy. ...more
Amy Robertson
Jan 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for an advance of this title in exchange for my honest review. Bubble in the Sun, by author Christopher Knowlton , was like reading about the Gold Rush, of the West, but rather the land rush of the state of Florida. From early discovery of Florida's beaches, to the purchasing of land, through the industrialization of the state, to development, and marketing, Knowlton creates a picture of wealth and glamorous living. We learn of the railroad expansion ...more
Dancing Marshmallow
Overall: 3 stars. A historical examination of a fascinating topic and time that was a little bogged down by pacing and narrative/story-telling inconsistencies.

Pros: What a fascinating part of American history that I didn’t know much about previously: the story of real estate development in Florida in the 1920s reads a bit like The Big Short meets The Great Gatsby: glitz and glamor and corruption with a splash of sad fatalism. I also appreciate that the author did not shy away from covering the
Sep 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
For some time now, I have wanted to take a tour of Flagler College in Saint Augustine, Florida. I know we also have Flagler County and who knows how many Flagler Avenues, but before reading this book, I knew next to nothing about Henry Flagler. I was surprised to learn that he was actually one of Rockefeller's partners and, "[when] John D. Rockefeller was asked if the Standard Oil company was the result of his thinking, he answered, 'No, sir. I wish I had the brains to think of it. It was Henry ...more
Patrick SG
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent and engaging read about the great Florida boom of the first quarter of the 20th century. Don't let the subtitle suggesting an economics lesson put you off. This is a well-written, engaging profile of the larger than life people who converted America's last frontier (pre-Alaska) into an exotic playground for the rich and those who hoped to be..

By profiling about a half-dozen key movers and shakers of the Florida boom, Knowlton draws a detailed, yet entertaining look at how a swampy, hot
Fred Forbes
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I got into this one for two reasons. First, as a long time Floridian who spends a lot of time in the areas covered (much of the state, actually) I wanted to get into the discussion of the people who shaped our culture (?) and history. Second, the book makes the claim that the Florida land boom and bust was a huge contributor to the collapse of the economy in the nineteen twenties and actually makes a pretty good case for that. Well written, notated and sourced and worthy of interest for any Flor ...more
Dec 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the characters in the wonderful novel Florence Adler Swims Forever, which I read several weeks ago, was caught up in the 1920s Florida land boom. When Bubble in the Sun was well-reviewed I was intrigued -- and now I know a LOT more about the early 20th century real estate wheeling and dealing that made modern Florida. Knowlton doesn't write only about the land guys -- he also includes Marjory Stoneman Douglas who crusaded to preserve the Everglades. It's quite a story and it's very well-w ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating, frenetic, and fun account of a wild time in economic history: the Roaring Twenties and Florida's development and real estate. The author's thesis is that this contributed greatly to the Great Depression. But he also delves into the lives of the men and women--specifically George Merrick, Carl Fisher, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Addison Mizner--who were key players. The cultural history of the decade and the architectural history of South Florida is engrossing and enterta ...more
Rita Ciresi
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
For fans of Florida lore. Of special interest to me were the stories of architect Addison Mizner and the mysterious disappearance at sea of D.P. Davis, founder of Davis Islands.
Sep 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this kind of book—an in depth analysis and social history of a specific time and place told through the stories of various interesting personages. Knowlton keeps the story moving with wild and interesting anecdotes. He doesn’t let the history get in the way of his telling us about an interesting time in American history(the Florida land boom and bust of the 20’s) but he really knows his history. A great combo. Highly recommended.
Ellen Loulou
Aug 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very engaging. Especially illuminating as to how the present is very much on a continuum of historical precedent.
Dec 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was recommended to Rick and it was our first attempt at listening to an audiobook together on a trip. I found it very interesting given that we have lived in Florida twice and recognized most of the places that were discussed. The book covered the 1920s and connected the Florida land boom to the Great Depression. I found the description of rum running during prohibition to be very much like the drug running portrayed in Miami Vice. It was very telling that these very wealthy developers ...more
S. Smith
Jan 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The author's lively style matches the exuberant tempo of the times chronicled in this well-documented social, economic, and environmental history of boom and bust in Florida. His intriguing analysis of the Sunshine State's real estate craze during the 1920s and his memorable prose portraits of the wild, risk-taking characters who drove the development of South Florida will interest both general readers and specialists. Note: The publisher supplied an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchang ...more
Sue Fernandez
Dec 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for an advance of this title in exchange for my honest review. I didn't know what to expect from this book, but it looked interesting. I wanted to see where it was going. I'll warn you that the foreward/beginning of the book is a bit slow, but once you get past that the book is so very interesting. Florida was a swamp, and it became a place for the elite to play.
One thing I loved was the author's ability to describe the people, the place and the tim
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of the hucksters and promoters who began the Florida land boom of the 1920s. Speculation and hype were strong factors. The author postulates that the boom and bust was a major factor in the Depression of the 1930s.
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wouldn't really give this a 4-star rating, as it's more of a 3.5. It's fast-paced and interesting, but it gets bogged down with too much name dropping about rich people that nobody has ever heard of, and the author spends 60% of the book getting to his main point and then brushes off that point in about 10 pages of information that's not presented clearly. I realize that he didn't want to write a dry economics or business textbook, but instead to make his business point around the charismatic ...more
David Valentino
Feb 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Babbitt Writ in SOLID CAPS

Sinclair Lewis created a fictional character, George Babbitt, to flog the ballyhoo and boosterism that was just shifting into gear at the start of the Roaring Twenties. But George, also a real estate man, could not hold a candle to the crowd that flocked to Florida, razed its natural beauty, and erected cities, towns, shopping districts, vacation spots, and highways on natural and manufactured land, nor to their exaggeration, and dubious, as well as outright illegal, fi
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Today’s post is on Bubble in the Sun: The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression by Christopher Knowlton. It is 411 pages long and is published by Simon & Schuster. The cover has some flappers in swimsuits and a row of hotels on top. There is mild foul language, discussion of sex and sexuality, and no violence in this book.

From the dust jacket- The 1920s in Florida was a time of incredible excess, immense wealth, and precipitous collapse. The decade there produced
Nov 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
I'm a sucker for books that attempt to explain the Great Depression and the title of this intrigued me. I do not live in Florida though did spend two years in zoning-free Tampa in the mid-nineties.

As such, the history of Florida in the 1920s was sort of interesting. It was the last great frontier in the continental United States. Lack of roads and railroads and a less-than-ideal climate during the summer months (no A/C back then) made Florida mostly inaccessible until the late 1890's when the fi
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Bubble In The Sun is a thoroughly researched and engagingly written history of the Florida land boom in the 1920s. The book focuses mainly on four real estate speculators: Carl Fisher in Miami Beach, Addison Mizner in Palm Beach and Boca Raton, George Merrick in Coral Gables, and David Paul D. P. Davis in Tampa and St. Augstine. But other important individuals such as Henry Flagler (investor) and Marjory Stoneman Doug
Judy Egnew Ness
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I got this book for my birthday and finally started reading it last week. It's very well-written and engaging. More than just a history of early development in Florida, it illustrates the roller-coaster ride of one of the craziest real estate booms in history. If you always thought the Great Depression was set off by the stock market crash of 1929, you may not have heard about the boom-and-bust history of the Florida land rush, and the large sums of money bet and lost on imagined fortunes. Fraud ...more
Jan 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
When a book is written this well history comes alive, in technicolor. It has it all - huge fortunes, huge homes, huge dreams and it all comes together to create the Florida we know today. Billions and billions of dollars spent by today's values and nothing was thought to be impossible. Family fortunes had been made in oil and sewing machines, chemicals and lumber and now that money was being spent to build a tropical playground for America. What a playground it turned out to be. From Flagler bui ...more
O Prism
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wow! What a GREAT read! One of the best mystery/thrillers I’ve read recently! A tale of two sexual assaults, 25 years apart, woven together by a podcaster who inadvertently connects the two when a relative of the former crime anonymously contacts her pleading for her to investigate during her coverage of the present one. And how, does she connect! This story will make you think, and question what you believe wrt morals, ethics, and sexual assault/rape. This book had everything - who to trust or ...more
Jul 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: completed
This easy to read book is history about the movers and shakers in Florida during the 20th Century. Knowlton has researched the people with grand schemes and those with the money to fund them. He also included people with grand schemes who died broke. It is a tell-all book about the affairs of the rich and famous and the monies and life they brought to south and central east coast Florida. He details the extra-marital affairs along with the faux marriages. It really starts with Flagler who brough ...more
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