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Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression Paperback – July 7, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

First published in 1970, this classic of oral history features the voices of men and women who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. It includes accounts by congressmen C. Wright Patman and Hamilton Fish, as well as failed presidential candidate Alf M. Landon, who recalls what it was like to be governor of Kansas in 1933:
Men with tears in their eyes begged for an appointment that would help save their homes and farms. I couldn't see them all in my office. But I never let one of them leave without my coming out and shakin' hands with 'em. I listened to all their stories, each one of 'em. But it was obvious I couldn't take care of all their terrible needs.
The book includes also the perspectives of ordinary men and women, such as Jim Sheridan, who took part in the 1932 march by World War I veterans to petition for their benefits in Washington, D.C., where they were repelled by army troops led by General Douglas MacArthur. Or Edward Santander, who was a child then: "My first memories come about '31. It was simply a gut issue then: eating or not eating, living or not living." Studs Terkel makes history come alive, drawing out experiences and emotions from his interviewees to the degree few have ever been able to match. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Wonderful!....It will resurrect your faith in all of us to read this book. (Newsweek)

Open [it] to almost any page and rich memories spill out....Read a page, any page. Then try to stop. (National Observer)

Anybody who wants to know where we were and how we got to where we are now—read this book.

(Arthur Miller)

An invaluable record. (The New York Times)

A huge anthem in praise of the American spirit. (Saturday Review)


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: The New Press (July 7, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565846567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565846562
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Studs Terkel (1912-2008) was a free spirit, an outspoken populist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a terrible ham, and one of the best-loved characters on the American scene. Born in New York in 1912, he lived in Chicago for over eight decades. His radio show was carried on stations throughout the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

87 of 93 people found the following review helpful By E. Richards on December 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book is a compilation of oral recountings of the Great Depression of the 20th Century, taken by Studs Terkel. The book can be regarded as an excellent primary source of information from a historical point of view. These are anecdotes from people ranging from sharecroppers on up to highly placed executives, politicians, and professionals. Terkel leaves no stone unturned, as these stories (grouped by occupation and social stratum) show how the Depression affected people in all walks of life in the United States.
No secondary source is going to prove as truthful as the stories themselves. No high-flying armchair analysis by a detached political commentator, PhD or windbag is going to give you the true flavor of what our country went through after October, 1929.
We are in the midst of an economic downturn that has 800,000 American citizens without unemployment insurance, a looming health crisis among unemployed members of the middle class, and a war on the horizon. If you want to be prepared and to understand the ramifications of this situation, I urge you to not only read this book cover to cover, but also to go out and find people who lived through this time and listen to their stories. Go to your grandparents, parents, elderly relatives, the old guy on the porch across the street, the local senior centers. Ask them to talk.
Understanding history helps us understand the future.
Studs Terkel's book is a recounting of the past, but is also a story of our coming future.
Read it!
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on December 13, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Studs Terkel interviewed dozens of people for his oral history, "Hard Times." What you get is a very good overall picture of the Great Depression in America.
Terkel interviewed the rich, gangsters, southern sharecroppers, Oakies and Arkies, the rural poor, young and old (in the 1930's as well as in the 1960's when he was interviewing people.) The perceptions of the Depression by each is as individual and as varied as America itself. What struck me most, however was the inequitability of the Depression.
When I thought of the "Depression" images of soup lines and "Hoovervilles" sprang to mind. And yes, many remembered those as well. But there were several interviewees who never saw a bread line, a shanty town, or felt the sting of economic crash. To my suprise, there were even a few individuals who became RICH as a result of the Depression.
Another interesting aspect of the book (which was totally unexpected) was the reflection of the "present" while looking back at the Deperession. Terkel assembled the book in the late 1960's; as you may imagine, the social turbulence and youth culture of the day was often brought up in the various interviews ... fascinating.
All in all an interesting and engaging read - if nothing else, it certainly puts things in perspective relative to the "hard times" the nation faced in the 1930's. The book is not for everyone, but I do recommend it.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By American_History_Rocks on November 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
Studs Terkel's "Hard Times" offers an excellent look into the 1930s from a multitude of Americans, including: the young/old, rich/poor, and new immigrant/old stock Americans were all coved in "Hard Times". Their stories will change you and your understanding of the Great Depression will be enhanced from what you learn from these readings.
Interestingly, the interviews were conducted in the late 1960s, so you also have a comparative oral history of the 1960s as well.
However, Stud Terkel's book would be greatly enhanced if he had included an index and a bibliography for interesting and important subjects. Maybe he will include an index and a bibliography in the next edition.
Overall, an excellent book!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Bishop on November 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is the first book I've read on America's experience of the Great Depression of the 1930s. My parents and other relatives and some of my older friends went through it. One man whom I knew, frequently brought it up and with great bitterness and anger, often directing that anger to others around him - especially those who were younger and didn't go through it - while others had little or nothing to say and seemed to brush it aside. Most though, seem to just want to forget it.

One fine elderly woman - my grandmother - was incredibly generous and loving to others the rest of her life, because of living through it. It still stuns me to see how these people with similar experiences could react so differently so many years later.

The author, being a Chicago man, places a lot of emphasis on the Depression as it hit that city and its citizens. Also he has a definite Left-oriented sort of outlook - and after reading this book it becomes entirely understandable. He frequently brings up the possibilities of revolution during the 1930s when so many ordinary and poor people lost just about everything. But the message comes through clearly that the Americans of those years firstly still had respect for law and order and the government, and secondly they had a kind of optimism or set of positive 'it will pass' illusions that kept them going.

Reading how people were treated back then, it is nonetheless a wonder that they really didn't rise up and overthrow the entire capitalist system. If a similar Depression occurred today, it would happen. And that is also the reflection of many voices in this book.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. More than anything else, it taught me to understand more clearly how and why different generational values and perceptions were formed from that period - and how they have come to impact succeeding generations.
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