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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression [Hardcover]

by Amity Shlaes
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (537 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 12, 2007 0066211700 978-0066211701 1

It's difficult today to imagine how America survived the Great Depression. Only through the stories of the common people who struggled during that era can we really understand how the nation endured. These are the people at the heart of Amity Shlaes's insightful and inspiring history of one of the most crucial events of the twentieth century.

In The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes, one of the nation's most respected economic commentators, offers a striking reinterpretation of the Great Depression. Rejecting the old emphasis on the New Deal, she turns to the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation. Some of those figures were well known, at least in their day—Andrew Mellon, the Greenspan of the era; Sam Insull of Chicago, hounded as a scapegoat. But there were also unknowns: the Schechters, a family of butchers in Brooklyn who dealt a stunning blow to the New Deal; Bill W., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the name of showing that small communities could help themselves; and Father Divine, a black charismatic who steered his thousands of followers through the Depression by preaching a Gospel of Plenty.

Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors. She shows how both Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal programs. The real question about the Depression, she argues, is not whether Roosevelt ended it with World War II. It is why the Depression lasted so long. From 1929 to 1940, federal intervention helped to make the Depression great—in part by forgetting the men and women who sought to help one another.

Authoritative, original, and utterly engrossing, The Forgotten Man offers an entirely new look at one of the most important periods in our history. Only when we know this history can we understand the strength of American character today.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This breezy narrative comes from the pen of a veteran journalist and economics reporter. Rather than telling a new story, she tells an old one (scarcely lacking for historians) in a fresh way. Shlaes brings to the tale an emphasis on economic realities and consequences, especially when seen from the perspective of monetarist theory, and a focus on particular individuals and events, both celebrated and forgotten (at least relatively so). Thus the spotlight plays not only on Andrew Mellon, Wendell Wilkie and Rexford Tugwell but also on Father Divine and the Schechter brothers—kosher butcher wholesalers prosecuted by the federal National Recovery Administration for selling "sick chickens." As befits a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, Shlaes is sensitive to the dangers of government intervention in the economy—but also to the danger of the government's not intervening. In her telling, policymakers of the 1920s weren't so incompetent as they're often made out to be—everyone in the 1930s was floundering and all made errors—and WWII, not the New Deal, ended the Depression. This is plausible history, if not authoritative, novel or deeply analytical. It's also a thoughtful, even-tempered corrective to too often unbalanced celebrations of FDR and his administration's pathbreaking policies. 16 pages of b&w photos. (June 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Its duration and depth made the Depression "Great," and Shlaes, a prominent conservative economics journalist, considers why a decade of government intervention ameliorated but never tamed it. With vitality uncommon for an economics history, Shlaes chronicles the projects of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt as well as these projects' effect on those who paid for them. Reminding readers that the reputedly do-nothing Hoover pulled hard on the fiscal levers (raising tariffs, increasing government spending), Shlaes nevertheless emphasizes that his enthusiasm for intervention paled against the ebullient FDR's glee in experimentation. She focuses closely on the influence of his fabled Brain Trust, her narrative shifting among Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and other prominent New Dealers. Businesses that litigated their resistance to New Deal regulations attract Shlaes' attention, as do individuals who coped with the despair of the 1930s through self-help, such as Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson. The book culminates in the rise of Wendell Willkie, and Shlaes' accent on personalities is an appealing avenue into her skeptical critique of the New Deal. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (June 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0066211700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0066211701
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (537 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #301,764 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amity Shlaes is proud to announce the publication of FORGOTTEN MAN GRAPHIC, a graphic version of her national bestseller about the 1930s, THE FORGOTTEN MAN. The artist for this 300-page treatment is the renowned cartoonist Paul Rivoche. Some samples of this cartoon book are on Miss Shlaes's facebook page. This is a book for thinkers and teachers, containing timelines and profiles of historic characters from the 1920s and 1930s.
Miss Shlaes is the author of three national bestsellers, COOLIDGE, THE FORGOTTEN MAN, and THE GREEDY HAND.
Miss Shlaes chairs the board of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She is chairman of the Hayek Prize, a prize for free market books given by the Manhattan Institute.
She teaches economic history at New York University's Stern School of Business.
Miss Shlaes has been the recipient of the Frederic Bastiat Prize of the International Policy Network, the Warren Brookes Prize (2008) of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as well as a two-time finalist for the Loeb Prize (Anderson School/UCLA).
In 2009, "The Forgotten Man" won the Manhattan Institute's Hayek Prize. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale College and did graduate work at the Freie Universitaet Berlin on a DAAD fellowship. She and her husband, the editor and author Seth Lipsky, have four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
954 of 1,077 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings You Back to the 1930's June 15, 2007
The Forgotten Man (TFM for short) is not a polemic. It is not an argument for a particular theory or economic interpretation of the Depression. Instead, the author steps back and lets the story tell itself. She has sifted through memoirs and contemporaneous accounts in order to carry the reader back into the mindset of the 1930's. She focuses on a diverse selection of protagonists from that period, including opponents of Roosevelt like Andrew Mellon and Wendell Wilkie as well as members of Roosevelt's "brain trust" like Paul Douglas and Rexford Tugwell. Note that in the context of that time, "trust" meant the same thing as cartel (as in anti-trust laws). Roosevelt was claiming that with his advisers he had cornered the market on brains. If so, then after reading TFM, my sense is that there was not much value in this particular monopoly.

I came away with three major conclusions.

1. For better or worse, much of the country saw the Depression as something akin to a natural disaster, and people accordingly lowered their expectations for their standard of living.

2. Economic ignorance among policymakers was much worse than I had realized. I was steeped in the myth that the reason the Depression was so bad was that only Keynes had the answer, and he had to overcome the resistance of "the classical economists," such as Irving Fisher. But the differences between Fisher and Keynes seem small when compared to the differences between the policymakers and both economists. In physics, it would be like watching an academic debate over the meaning of quantum mechanics while policymakers are unable to grasp the simple concept of gravity.

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95 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recipe for An Economic Depression August 16, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Tariffs, tax rate increases, wage and price controls and tight money. Government vacillation and unpredictibility. That these policies undermined business confidence and blocked economic recovery was lost on Hoover, FDR and their elite advisors. Ms. Shlaes makes a compelling case that but for those policies the 1929 downturn would have self-corrected by the early 30s, rather than drag on through the remander of the decade and into the next.

Another major theme of the book is the vast growth of government under FDR, including goverment subsidized and controlled projects (mostly utilities) that unfairly competed with the private sector. She also discusses FDR's successful (and cynical) strategy for the 1936 campaign, including persecution and condemnation of big business and catering to various targeted voting blocks (farmers, big labor, pensioners, women and blacks). Sound familiar?

The book is generally well written, although the focus drifts from time to time and more analysis would have been welcome. She also includes too many names and mini-resumes of peripheral players.

The Forgotten Man (a term that morphed under FDR from the taxpayer to the unemployed) is recommended for those who want a better understanding of the economics and politics of the 30s to correct some long standing myths (e.g. depression a failure of capitalism, FDR "brought us out" of the depression) and better understand today's economic and political issues.
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255 of 308 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What were the actual effects of New Deal policies? June 27, 2007
For offering a critical view of FDR's policies in her terrific new book THE FORGOTTEN MAN, Amity Shlaes has been taken to task by those who say that his charisma helped lift American spirits and get us through the Great Depression. FDR certainly had charisma, but what were the effects of his New Deal policies?

Dozens of economists, including two Nobel Prize winners, have evaluated the consequences of New Deal policies. Empirical research at many universities raises suggests that the New Deal actually prolonged the Great Depression. Consider some key questions like these:

1. Why did FDR triple federal taxes during the Great Depression? Federal tax revenues more than tripled, from $1.6 billion in 1933 to $5.3 billion in 1940. Excise taxes, personal income taxes, inheritance taxes, corporate income taxes, holding company taxes and "excess profits" taxes all went up. FDR introduced an undistributed profits tax. Consumers had less money to spend, and employers had less money for growth and jobs.

2. How much net benefit did the New Deal provide ordinary people who paid most of the costs of the New Deal? For instance, the biggest New Deal welfare programs were funded before 1936, when federal excise taxes on beer, wine, cigarettes, soft drinks, chewing gum, radios and other things purchased by millions of ordinary people, generated more revenue than the federal personal income tax and the federal corporate income tax combined. According to the standard reference work HISTORICAL STATISTICS OF THE UNITED STATES FROM COLONIAL TIMES TO THE PRESENT, in 1936 the federal government collected $674.4 million from the personal income tax, $753 million from the corporate income tax and $1.5 billion from excise taxes.
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389 of 476 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beware of the Elites June 15, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amity Shlaes has written an enormously important book. She offers abundant evidence that both the Republican Hoover and the Democrat Roosevelt unwittingly worsened the Great Depression. They opted for policies preventing the economic system from self-correcting. These two American leaders foolishly relied on the advice of elites infatuated with the Soviet Union. They essentially thought that the graduates of our best schools should manage the country. To be blunt, the elites were supposed to be our benevolent dictators.

Pay particular attention to Shlaes analysis of the Schechter brothers' confrontation with intellectual thugs associated with Harvard University. The author never mentions the vastly overrated works of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Nonetheless, The Forgotten Man is something of a direct attack on the late historian's less than admirable scholarship. Did Franklin D. Roosevelt save our nation? He admittedly may have done so in our fight against the fascists during WW II. Roosevelt's attempts to manage the American economy, however, almost destroyed our democratic institutions. The road to hell is sadly often paved with good intentions. We should learn form history---and never let this happen again. Regular citizens must be willing to check and balance the behavior of those most inclined toward arrogant ego-tripping and power seeking. The Forgotten Man deserves three cheers. You should obtain a copy immediately.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Depression 101
Amity Shlaes: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression HarperCollins, 2007, 433pp

This is a remarkable book which will forever change your understanding... Read more
Published 15 days ago by Sue
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing a great deal factual information readily available to a...
Many points are made in this work, that I like, and have seldom seen in other works. I note that the book was written in 2009, at the beginning of another "brainy" but... Read more
Published 25 days ago by dennis
3.0 out of 5 stars A fairly good chronicle of government officials and businessmen caught...
The book's title, "The Forgotten Man", is somewhat misleading because the book focuses on personalities who were in the news during the depression. Read more
Published 27 days ago by CHARLES C HUGHES
5.0 out of 5 stars What you were not taught in school about the New Deal.
What you were not taught in school. A non idyllic review of FDR, the New Deal, its origins, protagonists, repercussions and little known examples of it's tyrannical decay of the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Edward E. Ridenour
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, interesting, but long and boring at times.
i learned a lot and that was great. the book was confusing at times and got dry.....But glad i read it...
Published 1 month ago by Jeffrey Roberts
1.0 out of 5 stars Worthless miseducation full of no truth content at all complete proof...
Amity as been refuted by academics. Hate to tell you this but you can read about it here. she's wrong. her perspective isn't even slightly valid 0 truth content. all lies. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Paul M. Tidwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent perspective on a pivotal time in our history
I thought this book gave a balanced story about a tumultuous time in US history. The times required bold action and that is what the country got from FDR and his brain trust. Read more
Published 1 month ago by S. Busch
5.0 out of 5 stars Good read and take on history
She presents facts as to why the depression lasted as long as it did compared to other economically down times in history and the effects it had on those not politically connected... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jane Austin fan
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dark Time in History
It is a slow read for me because I can remember many of the people and the events of that time. My mathematics teacher in college was on the debate team with Wendell Wilkie so we... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Clarence D. Mayer
5.0 out of 5 stars Impact of Roosevelt era policies on the common man.
Amity Shlaes writes an engaging history with insights not presented in other histories of the Roosevelt era. Read more
Published 1 month ago by David Fox
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