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Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man

4.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0807840993
ISBN-10: 0807840998
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Editorial Reviews

Review

First-rate explanatory essays by the editor.
—"The New Yorker"

A "New York Times Book Review" Books for Vacation Reading & Notable Book of the Year

First-rate explanatory essays by the editor.
"The New Yorker"

There's nothing more deeply moving than reading the words and thus hearing the voices of the actual survivors of hard times. McElvaine has captured these voices as no one else ever has.
—Studs Terkel

The book is unique. Nowhere else can we read of despair as recorded by those who were feeling it hardest, unfiltered by memory.
—"Southern Living"

[This] book is easily the best thing of its sort ever done.
—David Shannon, Commonwealth Professor of History, University of Virginia --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

McElvaine makes a unique and significant contribution. . . . The thorough mastery of the subject that he has brought both to the selection and the introductions gives authority to the work far beyond that which a statistical, quantifying study could achieve.--Frank Freidel, University of Washington



McElvaine . . . recreates the Great Depression with this collection. . . . The result is a much more vivid account than most historical works can provide, with their usual emphasis on statistics and generalizations. . . . The letters make vivid reading.--Houston Post



As a record of the Depression era's forgotten men, women and children-Down and Out is worth much more than its purchase price.--Charlotte Observer



[I] found Down and Out very interesting and informative.--Rosalynn Carter



Reminiscent of Walker Evans' photographs in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.--The Mountain Times



[This] book is easily the best thing of its sort ever done.--David Shannon, Commonwealth Professor History, University of Virginia



The letters bear a sense of urgency that recollections of the Depression lack, and Robert McElvaine's solid introduction and method of organization deepen their meaning.--Christian Century



These letters are a moving testimony.--Times Literary Supplement



Robert S. McElvaine has compiled a fascinating, touching and above all illuminating book. . . . This book is a classic. No New Statesman reader should be without it.--New Statesman (London)



A powerful collection, offering a rare glimpse of the conditions of the poor during the Depression.--Mississippi Magazine



The book makes good reading. . . . Compelling human drama as well as important history.--Hartford Courant



Here is history written by the people who had to live it, in the U.S.A. of the 1930s. . . . A hell of a good book.--Pete Seeger



McElvaine has done a masterful job.--Sojourners



The dispirited reality of the Walton's age is vividly outlined in . . . Down and Out in the Great Depression.--Kansas City Star



McElvaine . . . has produced [a] compelling, often poignant glimpse of America's mood during the Great Depression. . . . It makes a fitting memorial to 'the forgotten man.'--Newsweek



These are the forgotten men, women and children of the Depression years.--Newsday



Some of the letters are heartbreaking with their revelations of deprivation, illness, and old age; some provoke a smile, and all are enormously affective.--Progressive



Like a well-chosen seasoning . . . it . . . bring(s) out the flavor of history. By rescuing the struggles of individuals from the anonymity of statistics, this volume preserves the Depression as it was experienced-with sorrow, anguish, hatred, faith, and humor.--The New Republic



Spanning the continent and representing a wide variety of groups, these letters give eloquent voice to the people embodied in government statistics and reports.--Wisconsin Magazine of History



Adds an important new dimension to our knowledge of a vastly important period in American history.--Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World



The most readable and entertaining historical work I [have] ever seen.--T.M. English, Mississippi Magazine



A stark documentary of a people one short step from despair.--Center Magazine



There's nothing more deeply moving than reading the words and thus hearing the voices of the actual survivors of hard times. McElvaine has captured these voices as no one else ever has.--Studs Terkel



McElvaine . . . successfully draws the reader into the heart and mind of the era-as it affected individuals.--Clarion-Ledger



McElvaine is to be commended. . . . Down and Out in the Great Depression is a remarkable testament to a time that no longer seems so distant and, at times, strikes awfully close to home.--Philadelphia Inquirer



Here are 'real people' at rock bottom, in their own words, often heart-breakingly desperate and ungrammatical.--Spectator



The book is unique. Nowhere else can we read of despair as recorded by those who were feeling it hardest, unfiltered by memory.--Southern Living



This is a good book . . . capturing people's moods well." --Library Journal



An illuminating contribution to the history of a bad time half a century ago.--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., New York Times Book Review



An enormously valuable and revealing document. . . . An experience that pays rich if painful rewards. The most obvious of these is that Down and Out in the Great Depression adds an important new dimension to our knowledge of a vastly important period in American history.--Washington Post Book Review



A collection of unforgettable vignettes that offer vivid testimony to the hardships the 'forgotten' men and women endured in the 1930s.--William E. Leuchtenburg, University of North Carolina



These are voices that need to be heard.--Journal of the Illinois Historical Society



The editor provides solid background.--Publishers Weekly



McElvaine's . . . contribution [is] significant and his conclusions . . . [are] more convincing than those of other scholars who have also tried to recount the Depression 'from the ground up.' . . . There is a poignancy which occasionally pushes past the confines of history and turns into street poetry, art, delirium.--Los Angeles Herald Examiner



Soundly conceived and imaginatively edited, Down and Out in the Great Depression shows how Americans responded to economic collapse, not in memory, but in their own words at the time-a compelling contribution to our history.--Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.



McElvaine . . . has found and filled a gap. . . . [He] has brought the feelings of these invisible people to life.--St. Petersburg Times



First-rate explanatory essays by the editor.--The New Yorker

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 268 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (March 1, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807840998
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807840993
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,872,488 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This wonderful collection of depression-era letters from both ordinary men in the street as well as from celebrated people alike is offered by noted Depression era historian Robert McElvaine. In the opinion of most contemporary historians, the Second World War was the single most important event shaping and directing subsequent developments throughout the 20th century. Moreover, no single other event so shaped the 1930s world or influenced the events leading to WWII than did the great worldwide depression. Through the words of the survivors of those terrible time themselves we are introduced into the world of those times, and in the process are treated to a terrific account of the human ordeal of the 1930s, which, as noted historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Notes, "does justice to the social and cultural dimensions of economic crisis as well as to its political and economic impact." Here we take a busman's tour into a world literally turned upside down by the massive and systematic economic dislocations that suddenly arose in the late 1920s.
This collection of letters breathes life into the otherwise stale statistics of the times. Moreover, this is a quite interesting collection that imaginatively recreates the amazing social, economic, and political conditions of the Great Depression for the reader in a most entertaining and edifying way. Today it is difficult, especially for younger readers, to understand just how traumatic and dangerous the crisis in democracy that the events surrounding the Great Depression were, not only in this country, but also in all of the constitutional democracies of the west. To the minds of many fair-minded Americans, the capitalist system had failed, and it was the man in the street with his family who bore the cruelest brunt of this failure.
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McElvaine's fascinating compilation is read like an anthology of prose and poetry. By looking at the Great Depression from the perspectives of its victims of diverse backgrounds-- the old and the young, the rich and the poor, men and women, blacks and whites, the optimists and the pessimists, the educated and the barely literate etc.--the reader is able to gain a better understanding of their struggles on a more personal level. Correspondances range from angry letters denouncing the responses of President Hoover in dealing with the Depession, to cheerful letters praising President Roosevelt as a saintly figure, to poignant letters written to Eleanor Roosevelt begging for money and old clothes, to disturbing letters that sound eerily like suicide notes of people who have lost all hope, to bitter letters decrying New Deal legislations and the creation of a generation of lazy dependents of federal welfare.

One complaint I have is that this books does not contain a single correspondance dated after 1937, as the Great Depression did not end there, or a chapter devoted to people's responses as the United States gradually pulls out of depression during World War II. Nevertheless, it's a minor flaw of an otherwise great work by McElvaine.
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I could only read this in small sips or I'd never get out of my emotional shock.
The Shock? Each of these letters are mirrored in the Letters to the Editors of my local paper.

From the despair of the working (or unemployed) poor to the blame the victim letters.

Increased the size of my food garden beds as the remedy of the truth facing us now.
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This book provides an excellent adjunct to the statistics normally produced about the Great Depression, providing significant insights to the perspective/s of the 'common man'. McElvaine's selection process has been quite rigorous, and the repetitive nature of the letters is undoubtedly representative of what thousands of Americans were experiencing.
The phenomenon of writing to Roosevelt was clearly unique, and probably only recently emulated during Obama's election campaign.
A good read, and although McElvaine provides some background to the Depression in his introduction, I recommend reading in in conjunction with some of the other historical texts written about the Great Depression.
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Amazing collections of letters written by all sorts of people that gives great insight to their situations. Very glad the collection was made public. Cannot picture people today being so quietly desperate!
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This gives first hand accounts of how the depression affected the common man and how much faith and thrust they put into the office presidency. Every teacher should have one of these in their classroom.
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