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133 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How a kindness lifted the dreary lives of a few of The Great Depression victims
I've long had a keen interest in The Great Depression. I saw the effects of it in the lives of my grandparents and parents and was always curious about why they did some of the things they did. Why did they horde things? Save things that to me seemed useless? Why did my grandparents keep their money in cash at home? Why wouldn't they talk about the Depression when I asked...
Published on November 8, 2010 by Susanna Hutcheson

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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Story of a man's great generosity, awkwardly told
I read Mr. Gup's article in the December, 2010 issue of SMITHSONIAN magazine about the story behind A SECRET GIFT, and was immediately intrigued. The article was concise, and crisply written - exploring the secret generosity of Mr. Gup's grandfather, a Roumanian immigrant named Sam Stone, toward needy families during the Christmas season 1933, in the depths of the Great...
Published on January 14, 2011 by SusieQ


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133 of 133 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How a kindness lifted the dreary lives of a few of The Great Depression victims, November 8, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
I've long had a keen interest in The Great Depression. I saw the effects of it in the lives of my grandparents and parents and was always curious about why they did some of the things they did. Why did they horde things? Save things that to me seemed useless? Why did my grandparents keep their money in cash at home? Why wouldn't they talk about the Depression when I asked about it?

When I read this well-written, eloquent book, it brought tears to my eyes. And, I'm not a woman given to tears. Author Ted Gup takes us back to a time that is, in many ways, being repeated even now. So, it's timely. And yet, it's history. A moving, terrible history. It's hard to read about it. It must have been total hell to live it.

Gup interviewed about five hundred descendants --- "many of them multiple times."

There are many books written about the Depression economy. We've tried to learn what happened to cause the Depression and who or what caused it to finally lift. Though we still don't really have all those answers, we do have the opportunity to study it.

But the people who suffered through it are not in those books for the most part. In this book, however, they're the stars. We feel their suffering and understand why a generation was like it was and how it produced yet another generation that was similar.

But it's more than even that. It's a mystery. The author discovers his own grandfather was the mystery-giver of $750 in anonymous money given in $5 checks in 1933.

Why did his grandfather, Sam Stone, do it? And why did he choose to be anonymous and indeed was for 75 years? The author didn't find all the answers but he found many that surprised even him. He found out things about his grandfather he never knew.

"For one moment, in one forgotten town, one man managed to shrink the vastness of the Depression to a human scale," he says.

The money was given to white collar people. As one letter writer said in his gracious thank you letter to the giver, "Most people don't think about us." In other words, we worry about those who are always poor but we think little of those who worked hard to build something and then in the wink of an eye lost it all. Those who went from prosperity to poverty thanks to the Depression that engulfed the world in the thirties.

The Depression hit white collar people hard. Perhaps because they had gotten so high and the fall was further and harder. Some recovered. Others never did.

About those tragic days, the son of a woman who lived through the Depression said, "There was a loss of confidence. For her, the good times were wonderful, then all hell broke out. Friends of hers said she had been full of pep and vigor. I didn't know her that way at all, so I think it probably did a job on her. It crushed her a little."

My guess is it crushed her a lot. It probably took her spirit.

Stone invited people to write to him and tell him about their experiences. He wanted to know how the people felt. He offered them the opportunity to express their sorrow and sadness. And they needed that more than even the money in many ways. They didn't talk to anyone about their hardship. Not even their spouses. So to be able to write it all out was a gift to them.

There was a sense of shame, embarrassment. And the white collar people felt that perhaps more than others because their fall was so public. They were pillars of the community.

They didn't want the dole. They wanted work. They would do any job.

"In the wasteland of the Depression, when men rarely felt free to truly open up to one another and share their doubts, Sam Stone had created a rare comfort zone. Those who had long guarded their feelings could finally release them without fear of disappointing others or humiliating themselves," the author says.

Of course, the money was a true blessing because in those days $5 was equal to $100 today.

The author writes with great compassion and understanding. He brings The Great Depression to life. My own grandparents were middle age people with children during the Depression. My parents were adolescents and then teens during that decade. I was born into prosperity. And those younger than me have known nothing but prosperity. It would be well for us all to visit our roots.

I felt ashamed and saddened at comments I made to my mother for saving things she never used. To me that was senseless. Now I see why she did it and I'm sorry for my thoughtless comments to her. I wish I could tell her.

Sometimes it takes a book like this one to give us the gift of seeing life through the eyes of others. In that sense, the author's grandfather's gift is still giving through this wonderful book and these precious stories. And as countless homes are being repossessed and people are hurting, people losing jobs and security, it may be the best time for this special gift.

The author tells us, "As Sam Stone himself learned more than once, the bright line that separated the favored class from those below them could dissolve almost overnight, exposing the fragile divide between the haves and have-nots."

Why did Sam Stone give this gift? What was his secret past? You'll have to read the book to find out. It's a book you will love and from which you'll gain an entirely new appreciation for one, perhaps two misunderstood generations.

Highly recommended.

-- Susanna K. Hutcheson
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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real people, November 10, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
Sam Stone's grandson discovered Sam had been an anonymous donor of five dollar checks to some of the most needy people in Canton, Ohio in 1933. This is a true detective story. This is the exactly right time to tell the story.

Imagine for a moment working hard, paying bills promptly, and putting money regularly into the savings bank. Then suddenly you lost your job. There was no unemployment insurance. You go to the bank and find it closed with all your savings gone. There is no FDIC. You try to sell your belongings. Sometimes this will feed the family for a while. Once your furniture is gone, and your house repossessed, and you are living as a whole family without heat or a bed in a room somewhere. Five dollars sometimes gave people enough hope to save them from suicide. Sometimes it meant an orange and a pair of shoes.

Ted Gup found descendants of the people his grand father had helped. He even found one still living who could remember the help. He followed up every one of his grandfather's checks, a tremendous task in itself.

But equally important he learned that his generous life affirming grandfather was an illegal alien who loved his adopted country with fear and passion.

This is an elegant book that bring to life early 20th century history. Read it please, and be glad for our safety nets no matter how inadequate they may be. It was once so much worse.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW, November 16, 2010
By 
tmw "purse diva" (Gods country Wyoming) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
this book is incredible! It will truly make you see the meaning of going hungry and what it means to give a gift from the heart. What it must have been like for granparents and great granparents in the depression, when not having a job meant way more than just not having a job! This book will touch your heart and soul!! A must read, especially this time of year.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to tell the secrets.. . and Wow!, December 1, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
This book does for the depression what Bob Greene's book about the North Platte Canteen did for World War II. It puts the best faces of America right where we can see them. About 25 years ago, my husband asked his grandmother about the Depression. She got this faraway look in her eye, and all she could say was, "There was no money. . ." and then she told us more detail. I then went to my father, who was just a bit younger than she, and put the question to him. He got this faraway look in his eye, and all he could say was, "There was no money. . ." and then he started in. To grasp the terrible need of the time, you just had to be there, and Ted Gup has done a masterful job of allowing his grandparents and their contemporaries to share about the Christmas season of 1933, when "There was no money. . ." I have read practically nonstop for three days.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Story of a man's great generosity, awkwardly told, January 14, 2011
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
I read Mr. Gup's article in the December, 2010 issue of SMITHSONIAN magazine about the story behind A SECRET GIFT, and was immediately intrigued. The article was concise, and crisply written - exploring the secret generosity of Mr. Gup's grandfather, a Roumanian immigrant named Sam Stone, toward needy families during the Christmas season 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression. The article was so good, I immediately knew I wanted to read the book.

A SECRET GIFT should have been a really wonderful, profound reading experience. But the author, who is described as an "award winning" investigative reporter, produced a meandering, piecemeal semi-memoir. The brief article in SMITHSONIAN led me to believe Mr. Gup was a good writer, but this book badly needed strong editing. The stories of the families who were helped by Sam Stone's generosity, and Sam Stone's own life story, are fascinating and heartbreaking. But the writing just plods along when it should soar. The topheavy 20-word title should have tipped me off.

I thought Mr. Gup's handling of parallels between the Great Depression and the continuing economic crisis of today was heavy handed, and frankly, his continuous effort to link the two distinct eras of economic crisis dragged the book down.

I have to give A SECRET GIFT three stars for the heartwrenching appeal of the stories of families assisted by Sam Stone's generosity, which Mr. Gup does an admirable job of uncovering. In that respect, his investigative skills are well applied. Yet, his style or manner of bringing these personal stories to the reader is so blah - such a static, uninvolved, almost-recitation of facts and dates, that even these left me a little cold and disappointed.

I can't get past the author's light touch in the magazine article, and the drastic difference in the quality of the writing I encountered in the book. I definitely wish I'd waited for my library to obtain A SECRET GIFT instead of spending my money on purchasing it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Emotional MUST Read!, November 30, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
Reading The Secret Gift, put me in remembrance of Jason Wright's Christmas Jars. The way it's written, the theme, and outcome. However, I can't fully compare the two because the stories ARE different and, of course, one is bigger than the other. The time eras are also different. It's just the meaning behind the story and the emotions that I feel as I read them both. The Secret Gift is a life changing book. So much so, that I feel this book TOPS Christmas Jars. Simply put: I loved this book.

Written about one of THE Hardest Times in American history, The Great Depression was so terrible for many, many people. Especially around the holidays. The historical, accurate details written about Ted Gup's family secret is absolutely amazing. While this was a true story, this book read like a wonderful fictional novel. It wasn't boring, it had pictures of the families from this horrific time in history, and it was emotional for me to read. I love when a memoir can be read like a fiction book. Ted Gup captures every emotion known to man-hunger, sadness, loneliness, heartache, anger, faith, love, happiness and hope- in this wonderfully written book. Gup was able to truly capture the events during The Great Depression in Canton, Ohio. The effect, during a holiday season, really took a toll on my heart. It was sad to read about the families and how many of them had no homes or clothes...and what the banks did was just horrible! This book really brought into perspective what went on during that time, especially since I had grandparents living during that time. But, through all this sadness and hardships, a holiday miracle took place that year, all because of a wonderful gift of a stranger.

In all honesty, this is a book that I would have seen in a bookstore and passed right by. However, after reading this emotional 5 star book, I would have been missing out. Through one man's gift during hard times, a lesson of love and hope and kindness is woven through out. A pay-it-forward sort of act. I highly, highly recommend that you read this life changing book. I'm glad I had the chance to review this book. Just take warning: have many, many tissues handy for this book!

*This review is based on a complimentary copy which was provided for an honest review*
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Connecting the Generations, January 1, 2011
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
Young kids wander along the railroad tracks in search of bits of coal that might have fallen from the trains. A young mother is devastated when two precious eggs roll off the table and break. A valued commodity gone. Ted Gup chooses his images well and does an even better job of painting them across the page. He picks the small, tender moments that are able to tell the profound effects of the Great Depression beyond statistics and history.

Two things really struck me about this one. When you study history in school, you're left with this sense that the Depression ended, the war began, and everyone went back to work. The book tells the story of so many workers that never recovered; never regained any of what they lost. The Great Depression was permanent for so many older workers who continued to live in squalor until the end. I couldn't help but think of so many older workers today that are too young to retire but are the hardest hit by the recession and unable to find new jobs. Another powerful discovery for me was how work ethics, a devotion to helping others, or unflappable hope carried on from generation to generation. A great-grandparents insistence on helping others in times of despair is alive and well as Gup interviews great-grandchildren still with an inclination to help those less fortunate. It made me stop and appreciate just how connected we all are and how my role as a parent will truly impact generations to come. I was left with an even greater sense of honor and responsibility for the role. Thank you Mr. Gup.

Chris Bowen
Author of, "Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great historical real life struggles from the great depression, November 29, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
I ordered 2 of these books, one for me and one for my mom for a Christmas gift. They arrived quickly once past the release date. Ted Gup is an amazing author, he doesn't use "fill in" words just to make the book bigger. True stories from real people during the great depression. A very good read for anyone who loves american history.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for today's world, December 10, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
I read about this in the NY Times in 2009, then again in 2010. My mother told stories about The Depression when I was growing up, and I HAD to read this book. More touching than the newspaper articles indicated, more interesting than I had expected, and too close to home for my (100 year old) mother to finish. This is up close and personal in capital letters, the real deal, and just incredibly moving, especially in today's economic times. I have recommeneded this book to several people and, when I read it, found it very difficult to put down. This should be required reading for every politician in Washington, DC ... no, it should be required reading for every person in the US....
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More To The B. Virdot Story, December 4, 2010
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This review is from: A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression (Hardcover)
I live in Canton, Ohio where B. Virdot shared his wealth with needy people. I personally knew some of the families who wrote to him. Those of you who are interested in this book and the story of the Great Depression and the life of Sam Stone--there is now more to the story.

After Ted Gup was here in town to meet descendants of the families his grandfather helped--there was quite a bit of publicity. It stimulated our community to think of trying B. Virdot again for needy families in 2010. Three people from our community seeded the fund with $5000 each. The goal was to help 150 families through our United Way/B. Virdot.

The gift provided by the letters and Ted Gup's easy to read style of writing will greatly enrich the lives of the people who read this excellent book.

In an update on the generosity of our community--to date we've raised $45,000 for this modern B. Virdot. Checks to those seeking aid have started to be sent. We understand that the story has taken on nationally and donations have come from across the country.

What a great tribute to Sam's idea so many years ago!
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