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Rethinking the Great Depression (American Ways Series) [Paperback]

Gene Smiley
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 21, 2003 1566634717 978-1566634717
The worldwide Great Depression of the 1930s was the most traumatic event of the twentieth century. It ushered in substantial expansions in the role of governments around the world, focused attention on social insurance, and for a time bolstered socialist economic ideas as a form of cure. Skepticism about the effectiveness of government withered as the free market failed, and it seems safe to say that Keynesian economics would not have flourished if the depression had not occurred. While this severe contraction has been extensively examined, we are just now—thanks to increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques—beginning to comprehend its causes and the reasons for the extremely slow recovery that occurred in the United States. Much of this analysis, though, remains in specialized studies that are visited mainly by economists and economic historians. In Rethinking the Great Depression, Gene Smiley draws upon this recent scholarship to present a clear and nontechnical analysis for the general reader. He explains the roots of the depression in the 1920s, the efforts of the New Deal to combat the economic crisis, and the legacy of these efforts in World War II and the postwar years. He offers new insights and some surprising conclusions: that the causes of the Great Depression lay in the dislocations caused by World War I and the attempt to reconstitute an international gold standard in the 1920s; that the New Deal, regardless of its good intentions, adopted misguided fiscal and monetary policies that prolonged the depression in the United States beyond what it should have been; that World War II, rather than stimulating an end to the depression, actually postponed a full recovery until 1946.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Smiley, an academic, revisits the Great Depression, the period from 1929 until 1933 that had such a slow recovery that the whole decade of the 1930s is often considered the Depression. Armed with increasingly sophisticated analytical techniques, the author sets out to survey the 1930s so that readers without training in economics have a better understanding of the forces at work during this period. In his view, the Great Depression prompted growing intellectual fascination with socialist economic ideas and precipitated World War II, which in turn led to the spread of communism worldwide. This era gave rise to Keynesian macroeconomics, which explained the Depression and advised how to get out of it and is now mainstream economic analysis. Smiley contends that "in many ways the Great Depression was the defining moment for 20th Century America." Mary Whaley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A remarkable achievement . . . Smiley has succeeded in presenting a brief, fact-rich account . . . in clear, nontechnical prose. (Robert Higgs, editor, Independent Review)

An insightful, well-written survey . . . the author weaves an engaging narrative . . . impressive and accessible. . . . Recommended. (Library Journal)

Gene Smiley's explanation of the Great Depression benefits from his expertise in banking and the international gold standard. (Larry Schweikart, University of Dayton)

Short in length but long on insight . . . a masterful account. . . . It will be required reading. (Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics, Ohio University)

A serious second look at the New Deal that historians will ignore at their peril. (Alonzo L. Hamby)

A brief and provocative account. . . . Smiley knows the current literature well, and makes good use of it in his analysis. (Virginia Quarterly Review)

This is a careful, systematic review of literature on the Great Depression, not a once over treatment. . . . The book is well written, strives for comprehensiveness and balance. (The Journal Of Economic History)

Economist Smiley . . . has produced . . . a slim and readable volume . . . in language that should be clear and understandable to students. (CHOICE)

Incorporates the findings of recent scholarship into an accessible survey of the economic events of the 1930s. (Journal of Economic Literature)

Economic historian Gene Smiley has performed a valuable service for all readers, academic and general. . . . A concise description of the economic influences and course of the Great Depression. (Liberty Press)

The author writes in a clear, engaging, and jargon-free style and does a good job of outlining the key events of the period for nonspecialists. Provides a handy introduction to the Great Depression. (The Historian)

An engaging, balanced, and perceptive short book. . . . Smiley brilliantly describes this tragedy and its long-term consequences. (Claremont Review Of Books)

A book of equal value both to laypersons and to professional economists. . . . Well written. (Jim F. Couch Public Choice)

A slender but engaging volume, one approachable by the nonspecialist. (Business History Review)

Product Details

  • Series: American Ways Series
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee (July 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566634717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566634717
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.5 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #745,880 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
87 of 98 people found the following review helpful
By L. Orr
Gene Smiley, a protege of the free-market-oriented Austrian and Chicago schools of economics, has written a concise and readable book that challenges some long-held beliefs about the Great Depression.
Smiley presents a convincing case that the calamity was brought on, not, as is widely believed, by flaws in the free enterprise system, but by government policies, in particular, attempts to manipulate the gold standard. He then shows how the well-intentioned but wrongheaded interventionist policies pursued by the Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt administrations to combat the Depression actually prolonged and deepened it.
Smiley also presents evidence that the "boom" of the World War II years was actually a bust, and that true prosperity only returned when Washington turned away from New Dealism following the election of the Eightieth Congress in 1946. His insightful discussion as to whether or not another Great Depression could occur should be of particular interest to contemporary readers.
Although written for a general audience, Smiley's book is well researched and includes an extensive bibliography. It will make a useful addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in the Great Depression, American history, or macroeconomics.
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57 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars new look at country's worst crisis March 5, 2004
Based on new theories, Smiley has re-examined and re-assessed the forces that led to and prolonged the Great Depression. In clear non-technical prose, he shows what happened and why.
This short book (163 pages plus sources and index) is divided into five chapters. Chapter 1 gives a brief overview of how the worldwide depression began and how it created a domino effect throughout Europe and the U.S. Nothing new here-- in fact, this is basic stuff any high schooler should know.
Chapter 2 is a more detailed examination of the economic crisis and the forces which led to it. Smiley explains the situation in basic terms that anyone can understand, allowing us to see the tragedy unfolding step by step.
Chapters 3 and 4 show how President Roosevelt (who had little knowledge or experience of economics) attempted to pull the country out of this deep economic slump. Though some programs were successful, some were not, and only serve to create a depression within a depression in the mid-30s.
Chapter 5 examines the legacy of the governmental response, and how economic policies initiated during this period has affected this country for decades afterward, and how certain government programs still exist long after their usefulness has passed. An examination of post-war analysis shows how Keynesian economic theory and government studies have misinterpreted the factors which brought this country back to recovery. He also examines the question of whether such an event can happen again, concluding that-- based on subsequent economic downturns-- it probably won't, though it can happen again should future leaders ignore the warning signs and lessons of the past.
A fascinating and rewarding book, even for those who have little or no knowledge of economics.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise, well orginized, and a fantastic read. June 3, 2003
This book is only 175 pages, but dense in material. Smiley argues that FDR's New Deal, actually prolonged the Great Depression, and created a "depression within a depression." FDR, and his advisors, self nicknamed "the brains trust", put their New Deal emphasis in stiffling the free market forces, that were actually recovering the American economy from the world depression, of the early 1900's. Also, Smiley sheds light on the false notion that war is good for the economy. This book is written in such an understandable and concise style, that even the bibliography reads like a integrated chapter, where Smiley explains what he used within each reference.
I would recommend this book as a first read, or primer, for the Great Depression. I really enjoyed it.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accuracy matters January 7, 2010
By MT57
In an effort to write a review that you might find "helpful", I think it is important to alert you that only some of the reviews below are accurate; certain of the reviews below, for whatever reason, inaccurately describe the book.

The author, a professor of economics at Marquette, identifies three main factors that caused the Depression to last as long as it did and be as deep as it was: the collision between the fixed gold standard and widely divergent economic performance of individual nations; the burden of German reparation payments on the international flow of goods and capital; and misguided policies of the federal government such as Hoover's jawboning against wage flexibility; the New Deal's program to cartelize American business (as a compromise between the overt socialization that some FDR advisors wanted and the prevailing wisdom of free enterprise); and the effect that populist demagoguery and legislation had on business confidence and investment in 1937-38. Reviews that imply that the author has ignored the first two factors are simply wrong as to what is in the book.

Contrary as well to the inaccurate reviews, the author does not blame FDR for the Great Depression. He quite clearly states that the Great Depression began in 1927-28 in the US agricultural sector and in several foreign nations, in the way that the Mississippi begins in a Minnesota stream; that the stock market crash was in part a symptom of the weakening economic outlook as opposed to the start of the Depression. As he moves chronologically through the period, he first arrives at Hoover and thoroughly criticizes him as noted above. While he goes on to find many flaws in FDR's decisions, he is not one-sided.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Pleading for Failed Policies
Rethinking the Great Depression, by Gene Smiley

"The Great Depression was the single most important economic event in the twentieth century" (`Preface'). Read more
Published on November 5, 2011 by Acute Observer
3.0 out of 5 stars Dr. TMS
The least bad of the several conservative revisionist histories of the Great Depression. Professor Smiley ignores less of reality than, say, Rothbard, Power or Schlaes. Read more
Published on February 14, 2011 by T. M. Sell
1.0 out of 5 stars Nicely argued--if you ignore all countervailing evidence
Smiley's book is nicely argued, but ignores all contrary evidence; it is more a religious exercise than a social scientist's examination of the Great Depression. Read more
Published on January 15, 2011 by Steven W. Hiatt
4.0 out of 5 stars How Not to Manage an Economic Depression
This is a short book on the causes of the Great Depression. Gene Smiley takes us through the events leading up to the Great Depression and some of the contributing factors that... Read more
Published on January 21, 2010 by Mark Eversfield
1.0 out of 5 stars Ironic
The title could hardly be more ironic. No "Rethinking" was involved in this cursory and chaotic presentation of a few selected data and facts (he also rewrote bits of history) to... Read more
Published on December 6, 2009 by Ronald Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Rethinking the Great Depression
I have studied the Great Depression in the past. Given our current times I decided that I wanted to revisit the subject. This take gave me new prospective about the subject. Read more
Published on March 25, 2009 by David Oneal Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars Reality
Rethinking the Great Depression is a highly informative book. Its importance derives from the widespread misconceptions regarding the Great Depression. Read more
Published on March 20, 2009 by D. W. MacKenzie
5.0 out of 5 stars A new perspective on an old problem
Smiley presents a different perspective on the causes and cures of the great depression, dispelling the myths that the stock market caused it and WWII made us spend our way out of... Read more
Published on March 5, 2009 by T. Dahlstrom
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent sysopsis of the Great Depression
This is a very clearly written and concise overview of the Great Depression between 1929 and 1942. It is easy to read and includes both historical and economic repercussions of... Read more
Published on February 25, 2009 by Leslie Higgins
3.0 out of 5 stars Short and sweet: Good bedtime reading for insomniacs
Note: I own and I have READ the whole book (...)

(163 pages)
Short review: a strong three star. Read more
Published on February 5, 2009 by Francis Meyrick
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