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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of how the New Deal put America on its feet
This is a very interesting and highly readable overview of how the average American, namely those hurt the worst by the Great Depression were able to get back on their feet and help boost the country along with them. American-Made doesn't intend to sanctify the WPA and does a great job at showing how in many cases there were glaring imperfections both in management and in...
Published on April 14, 2008 by R. C Sheehy

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I was very excited to read this book, as I had seen an exhibit at the Smithsonian of fine art created as part of the WPA. Initially the book seemed to fit the bill, but the further I got the more it seemed like the author had done absolutely exhaustive research and couldn't bear to leave anything out! It is very informative, and very thorough, and I learned a ton about an...
Published 18 months ago by glicker


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview of how the New Deal put America on its feet, April 14, 2008
This is a very interesting and highly readable overview of how the average American, namely those hurt the worst by the Great Depression were able to get back on their feet and help boost the country along with them. American-Made doesn't intend to sanctify the WPA and does a great job at showing how in many cases there were glaring imperfections both in management and in how it was run. Still, the over reaching theme is how the WPA succeeded in its overall mission of giving people hope and of finding ways to boost the economy without treading on the concept of handing out charity to people too proud to receive it. There is also an excellent table setting which demonstrates the feeble attempts of the Hoover administration to deal with the Depression. Needless to say they all failed miserably.

There are two weaknesses to the book that prevent me from giving it five stars. The first is that it falls to far into jargonism and we see too many alphabet soup agencies which were common at the time but make the story tough to follow as a reader sometimes you have to go back several pages to remember what this was or that was. Also, the stories of the individual workers are fascinating and while Harry Hopkins and FDR are well known these people are not and their own experiences with the WPA and more of their reminisces would have been welcome. But still overall this is a great book worth reading!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A herculian task done well..., September 1, 2008
By 
Quixote010 (columbus, ohio) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
History is what it is. When written, it can be entertaining, or the most pathetic bore imaginable. Nick Taylor has done an applaudable feat of telling the tale of the country's ascention from the depression in an entertaining and highly acceptable manner that reads far more like a novel than a historical review.

At better than 500 pages, American-Made begins after the prosperity of the 1920s and leads us to World War II by following the trails taken to put one-third of the American people to work.

For anyone having read Grapes of Wrath, American-Made recalls much of the same hardship and futility experienced by Steinbeck's Joad family, only on a much grander, but just as readable, scale. Why did Hoover think that the answer to the country's problems literally could be solved with a song, and where did the poor and hungry find apples to sell for a nickle are just two of the dozens of tales incorporated into this book.

I also particularly enjoyed his simple, untold tales of American ingenuity, and was surprised to discover how many WPA projects endure today. From building gravel roads, to constructing a podium for FDR, the author has done a superb job of capturing the era while keeping the reader's attention and interest.

Paraphrasing Howard O. Hunter, Commissioner of the WPA, .."the full accomplishments of the WPA will never by known. It has simply been too large in figures and volume of things done to get it all in one brief statement." Taylor tries, and does a commendable job of it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depression revisited, May 6, 2008
I've only read a few chapters in this book, but if you replace the years 1930 with the years 2007-?, is there any difference between what happened in the depression of the 30s with what is happening today? Food prices skyrocketing, homes being lost, unemployment moving up the scale, a President who doesn't want to be involved on the federal level. I think that everyone who wants to see this country survive, who has their head in the sands, needs to read this book today to better understand what is going to happen to us tomorrow. I will update this review once I finish the book.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel, April 11, 2008
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I've always been fascinated by the New Deal and this book delivers. I read it over the weekend and enjoyed the story and the writer's style. Full of information, but never leaving the human side behind. The author obviously agrees with the philosophy behind the WPA and New Deal, but is also willing to confront the mistakes and errors of both.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good History, July 6, 2008
There are, doubtless, more than a few scholarly histories of various aspects of the New Deal which presuppose a good amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. And there are also plenty of general overviews of FDR and the Great Depression. So, it's nice to have a history of the WPA that is somewhere halfway between these two kinds of studies.
Taylor's book is a combination of "great man" history (FDR and Harry Hopkins, mostly) and oral history chapters, detailing the experiences of persons representative of the millions of WPA workers. The author's sympathy with all involved is evident, but he isn't blinded to some of their faults. For example, Franklin Roosevelt is depicted as being oblivious to the political consequences of his 1937 "court-packing" scheme, and it is shown that the WPA arts programs were pretty much left to fend for themselves when Martin Dies' House Committee on Un-American Activities went looking for a whipping boy.
A very convenient glossary at the end of the book gives a list of the New Deal's "alphabet soup" agencies.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery "Book Report", April 14, 2009
This review is from: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (Paperback)
Writerly passion and interest can even inform a dry subject like the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

In "American Made: When FDR Put the Nation to Work," Nick Taylor takes what might be food for only the wonkiest among us and gives a fighting chance with those who merely like an interesting story.

Lists and data are inevitable in a book about a public works project and so we are often exposed to paragraphs detailing the 5,000 bridges built, 70,000 zillion miles of road paved, one million people vaccinated etc. etc.

Not that this is without merit. Conveying a story, Taylor must-needs wrestle with the second job of assembling an accurate historical document to support his conclusion that the ordinary folks of the WPA "proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation."

The literary calculus here entails providing a political context for the WPA narrative, a focus on some of the agency's more colorful exploits, and the depiction of a nation brought to its knees by government neglect, rather than cataloguing every single deed done.

By way of background, the WPA was the newly inaugurated Franklin Delano Roosevelt's effort to provide some of the Great Depression's many unemployed millions a job.

"American Made," enjoyed a special relevance over the past few months as the Obama administration dug deep into our pockets to finance projects that would both stimulate the economy and put idle hands to doing some long-overdue repairs all around the country.

New Deal comparisons were inevitable.

The book makes clear that, politically, little in the United States has changed over the past 80 years or so.

In an all-too-familiar role, the Republican Party of those times choked on its own insistence all economic issues be sorted out by the free market, while it supporters belittled WPA workers as bums looking for a handout.

Last week the highway scribe saw a bumper stick in Republican north county San Diego that read: "I voted for a hero, not a handout."

Same as it ever was.

"American Made" makes clear that, when Roosevelt could squeeze money for WPA projects out of Congress, unemployment went down and economic prosperity rose. In subsequent years, when budget balancing took precedent, the whole enchilada tanked once again.

Taylor does a nice job of fleshing out the major personality behind the WPA, administrator Harry Hopkins, whose book, "Spending to Save," serves as a perfect textual response to present day budget hawks and Bible for deficit defenders such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.

But it is the stories of the little people writ large by their efforts on WPA projects that gives the book its life.

These include the story of a famed international chef reduced to assuming the cooking duties in the work camp at the Timberline Lodge in Oregon.

Another tells of an Appalachian women driven to the WPA rolls and charged with delivering used books on horseback to back country folk suffering as much from mental malnutrition as physical.

The recounting of John Houseman and Orson Welles launching a voodoo-infused version of MacBeth in Harlem brings to life New York culture of the time, details left-wing infiltration in Gotham's WPA branch, and shows how Republicans and Democrats alike used it as a springboard for a rollback of New Dealism, and worse, McCarthyism.

Chapters recounting terrible natural disaster impacting a beleaguered nation are pregnant with commentary on the importance of never wasting human desire to thrive, be useful, and live with some dignity.

These chapters attest to the potential dividends yielded by investing in human capital and to the virtue of the democratic project when it is working best.

The author smoothly lays out transitions in the political environment while successfully linking them to changes within the WPA itself.

The New Deal and the times in which it unfolded were not static, but ever ebbing and flowing. Nick Taylor's book does a fine job of capturing the personalities, the issues that moved them, the tenor and pitch of the debate surrounding.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Object Lesson in How to Organize a Federal Jobs Program that Accomplishes Useful Projects, January 29, 2009
By 
Roger D. Launius (Washington, D.C., United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Nick Taylor has written an elegant general history of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the legendary federal agency from the New Deal created in the 1930s. We might well need something like this again in the near future to put people back to work as the U.S. sinks into an economic morass in 2009. Accordingly, this book is especially timely and perhaps will help inform public policy in the coming months and years.

Taylor takes a thematic approach to assessing the history and legacy of this organization. He divides the work into interesting groupings by topic that makes accessible to a broad audience what the WPA was involved in and how it functioned. The WPA focused on the building of infrastructure--especially roads and bridges, airports and public buildings--and this was by far where the majority of the federal funding was spent. The building where the History Department is housed at LSU, where I completed my Ph.D., was built by the WPA in the 1930s, and while it is an aging structure it is a sound, useful building still in continuous use more than 80 years after its construction. The investment in this construction, and all manner of other infrastructure, had a profound effect on the development of the United States in the modern era. This story is well told in "American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA when FDR Put the Nation to Work."

In addition, the WPA got involved in all manner of other work projects that was strikingly different from the roads, bridges, and buildings for which the agency had become famous. These included the WPA Writers' Project and the WPA Artists' Project, and both also had important results beyond the truly significant infrastructure contributions. As examples, and Taylor discusses these at length, are the large number of murals painted by WPA artists in post offices and other public buildings, many of which still exist, and some of the published state and river system guides and histories compiled by legions of participants employed in the writers' projects of the WPA. Many of those books went through several editions, and some have remained in print to the present because of their continuing value.

The recalling of the work of WPA is useful at several levels because of the current economic situation, but even more Taylor discusses at length the sense of mission and commitment felt by those leading the WPA throughout its existence. From director Harry Hopkins, a close advisor to FDR, to it local officials, the sense that the people of the United States must work together in service both to the nation to their fellow citizens permeated the culture of the WPA. That sense of honorable service to others, of work for the good for the nation, struck me as one of the core lessons emerging from this account of the WPA.

Taylor's exceptionally readable and comprehensive account does an excellent job of explaining how and why some WPA projects attracted both enthusiastic public support and vociferous political fire from FDR's opponents until the WPA was terminated in the early years of World War II. It is not a perfect book by any means. It does not argue a new and unique thesis, but it does effectively make the case of the value of public works programs both for the national welfare and individual economic help, a longstanding theme in WPA history. It does not mine new documentary sources to fill out details of the account, even though there are exceptional collections the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration, but it certainly marshals effectively the historical data it uses.

As it is "American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA when FDR Put the Nation to Work" offers a unique angle of vision into 1930s America and the manner in which the federal government can accomplish useful objectives.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, June 27, 2013
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This review is from: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (Paperback)
I was very excited to read this book, as I had seen an exhibit at the Smithsonian of fine art created as part of the WPA. Initially the book seemed to fit the bill, but the further I got the more it seemed like the author had done absolutely exhaustive research and couldn't bear to leave anything out! It is very informative, and very thorough, and I learned a ton about an historic episode that has great parallels to the current "Great Recession." But it was not a very enjoyable reading experience. The couple of great personal stories were left hanging - until a coda at the end of the book. The effort to introduce some suspense seemed contrived. The writing was not difficult to read or heavy, but it was a bit like wading through the biblical passages of who begat whom, lots of lists of events or projects or names without a cohesive arc of any kind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly comphresensive, September 4, 2009
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This review is from: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (Paperback)
This is an excellent read. Truly comphresensive. I enjoyed the insights regarding the leading individuals in both parties in the lead-up to the Depression as well as FDR's victories in both 1932 and 1936. The commentaries on many of the personalities involved in the WPA as well as other agencies help people understand the "politics of the WPA" and people involved. Lengthy but necessary. Some of the anecdotes are priceless, especially the one dealing with MacBeth and the drummers.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to Apply Those Lessons Learned, May 17, 2009
This review is from: American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work (Paperback)
It is a stirring story about America at its best. Every word, every page, is pitch-perfect. I already knew a lot about the WPA arts, architecture and public works projects, but there was much I didn't know. Hopkins was a richer human being than I realized, a complete character in the best sense: obstinate, seemingly self-effacing. And the best part was he wouldn't tolerate politics getting in his way. His understanding of the needs of the nation and its people, and his empathy and sense of urgency about what government could and should do were exemplary. He and Roosevelt seemed to communicate in short hand, minus the spoken word. Acting together, it was as if the stars all lined up behind them.

For decades, upon entering older post offices I've often wondered if the murals I saw were the result of a WPA project. More often than not, they were. Sadly, we suffered a huge loss when the easel paintings produced during the same period were moved into storage, then either sold for scrap or destroyed. Considering the importance of that period in this country's art history, can you imagine how much richer we would be if those resources were still available today?

Quite telling was Flanagan's comment, that ... "if they were spurred on by fear of a more literate public educated by plays on current events such as the Living Newspapers, or by fear of a better understanding between blacks and whites because many politicians found thinking people a risk," it follows that the opposition party then and now have been against providing money for education because of what they feared most; an awakened electorate. It's a sad commentary on the state of our country that because of such short-sighted thinking our system was brought to its knees. The comparisons to the present are unmistakable.

Alan Z Aiches
Washington, DC
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