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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Compilation Of Depression- Era Correspondance, November 24, 2000
By 
Barron Laycock "Labradorman" (Temple, New Hampshire United States) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
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. Millions were set adrift, and everywhere ordinary human beings were stripped of their possessions, their livelihood, and their dignity as thousands and then millions of businesses and enterprises went bankrupt.
For a time it appeared the government itself would lost the confidence of the people, and that civil order would be sacrificed along with all of the material dispossessions millions had already suffered. Socialism and even communism flourished as alternative answers in academic circles, and no one seemed sure or even confident that the system could be saved or resurrected as it continued to fail. The rise from the ashes of the Great Depression was uncertain, fitful, and quite painful, and only the advent of the circumstances surrounding the Second World War really cured the economic ills that Americans struggled with in those times. The fact that we seem to have forgotten the fact that capitalism is a god that can and does fail is worrying to the author, and he examines some of the dangerous and misguided tacit assumptions of contemporary politicians such as the supply side "voodoo" economics of Ronald Reagan's administration.
I found the book to be a valuable aid in understanding how ordinary Americans, forged in the crucible of hard times and make-do, were given the character, self-reliance, and native ability to improvise that so influenced our conduct in the Second World War. Many scholars attribute our military success to the brilliant efforts by our young company and platoon leaders both in Europe and in the Pacific with providing the decisive ingredient to win the war in terms of the hand-to-hand combat. As David Kennedy argues so persuasively in "Freedom From Fear" (see my review), it was the young Americans whose characters were forged in the hard times of the Great Depression who so the moral courage and strength of character to rise up from their foxholes to win their war. This is a wonderful book, and I highly recommend it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful story of the great depression, October 22, 2004
When I was a child, my older relatives would occasionally talk about the depression. While I understood what they were saying, in many ways I took it to be another one of the "you kids have it so much easier" stories. It was also the case that the story was being told decades after the event. Even the most traumatic events become softened over time, years of living better had taken some of the edge off of their experiences.

The letters in this book will put that edge right back on. These are messages written by people who have had their world turned inside out by forces they could not understand. Their despair, fear and uncertainty are evident in their statements, which are letters to government officials such as President Franklin Roosevelt. Many are also addressed to Eleanor Roosevelt, a tribute to her image as someone who cared. It is moving to read the simple letters, most of which are filled with spelling and grammatical errors. These are common people who are seeking help, yet in most cases, what they ask for is so little. In one letter in particular, the writer is only asking for a little coal so that their house would not be so cold in the winter.

This collection of letters takes you back to a time in the United States when pessimism reigned. Despair was the emotion of the day, and some people poured their emotions and desperation out by writing letters to people they thought might help. A message from the days of hard times, these letters tell the story of the depression in a way that is more powerful and moving than hearing it in words could ever be. It is well worth reading and would be a strong supplement for any class covering the history of those years.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting look at the Depression, July 30, 2004
By 
Kevin Wang (Princeton, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Right Out of Today's Headlines, June 2, 2009
This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
To say I was amazed and saddened by the letters contained in this book is an understatement. It seems to me that changing the dates and names are all that need to be done to make the letters to President Hoover and his Cabinets appear to have been written today. It was also a little shocking to read of the resentment of illegal immigration expressed by the jobless of the Depression. Until I read this book I had not considered this as a factor and I have read many, many books on the Depression. This subject was never mentioned.
This book is an eye opener and strikes the heart with a very heavy hand. The huge difference I could see in the people of the Depression and people of today is a greater and better work ethic and a willingness to make do without a handout. Stoicism ruled the working class of the Depression. People of the Depression, college degree or not, would gladly use a 'shovel and pick' to support their families while, sadly, too many of the younger generation of today would collect their unemployment, look for a bailout and bitch.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to put their live in perspective.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All too familiar, August 15, 2011
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This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars A human side to the Great Depression, May 9, 2010
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This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing collections of letters written by all sorts of people ..., July 13, 2014
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This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars good condition, August 26, 2013
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This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
Have yet to read the book yet, was exactly what i ordered, good condition, should suffice for the class i need it for
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Resource, March 2, 2013
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This review is from: Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Paperback)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars Eye opener, November 14, 2014
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Bought it for class. Book is filled with really personal letters to the president during the great depression. Very eye opening to how things were back then. Especially because nobody writes letters to the president anymore.
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Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man
Down and Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man by Robert S. McElvaine (Paperback - February 25, 2008)
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