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Rethinking the Great Depression (American Ways Series) Reprint Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1566634717
ISBN-10: 1566634717
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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)

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Product Details

  • Series: American Ways Series
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; Reprint edition (July 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566634717
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566634717
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 101 people found the following review helpful By L. Orr on December 31, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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59 of 66 people found the following review helpful By David Group on March 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By MT57 on January 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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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