Bubble in the Sun

The Florida Boom of the 1920s and How It Brought on the Great Depression

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About The Book

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. It was the largest human migration in American history, far exceeding the settlement of the West. It spawned the suburbs as we know them and the first large-scale assault on the environment in the name of “progress.” Thousands flocked to the grand hotels and new cities rose rapidly from the teeming wetlands. Nowhere was the glitz and excess of the Roaring Twenties more blatant than in Florida. It was Vegas before there was Vegas; gambling was legal and so was drinking (prohibition was not enforced). Tycoons and celebrities flocked to this new frontier. Yet, the import and deep impact of this historical moment has never been explored thoroughly until now.

In Bubble in the Sun Christopher Knowlton shows us the grand artistic and entrepreneurial visions behind Coral Gables, Boca Raton, Mar-a-Lago, Miami Beach, and other storied sites. It was a time when the nightlife raged more raucously than anywhere else in America; workers, mostly black, who built and maintained the boom endured grievous abuses; and the pure beauty of the Everglades suffered wanton ruination. Knowlton also breathes dynamic life into the four forces that made and/or broke Florida in the time: the real estate moguls Carl Fisher, George Merrick, and Addison Mizner, and the once-in-a-century storm whose aftermath included the stock market crash. This essential account is a revelatory—and relevant—history of a specific time that is still affecting our country today.

About The Author

Photograph by Stacey J. Byers

Christopher Knowlton is a former staff writer and London bureau chief for Fortune magazine. He spent fifteen years on Wall Street, most of them as president of Knowlton Brothers, Inc., an investment management firm. He is a trustee of the Teton Raptor Center and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. He and his wife, Pippa, split their time between Wyoming and California. He is the author of Cattle Kingdom and A Bubble in the Sun.

Why We Love It

“Knowlton’s previous book was an excellent and constantly surprising new history of the Old West. This time he’s drawing even bolder conclusions: by showing that Florida was the epicenter of the Roaring Twenties in America and by proving that the Great Depression arose from the debacle that befell Florida in the late 20s. Both are strikingly new views—the latter in particular.” —Eamon D., VP, Executive Editor, on Bubble in the Sun

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