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The Great Depression: A Diary Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648799X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487997
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #693,387 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Charles R. Morris, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown
“Benjamin Roth has left us a vivid portrait of the Great Depression that is all the more powerful for the similarities and differences with the financial upheavals of today. Roth enables us -- in ways no historian can match -- to immerse ourselves in the sense of despair that Americans of that era felt and their hope that the economy would revive, long before it did. To read the diaries now is both enlightening and chilling.”

Jonathan Alter, The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
“We imagine the Great Depression at two extremes--Franklin Roosevelt's jaunty smile and the haunting images of Dustbowl destitution. But in between were everyday middle class strivers like Benjamin Roth, trying to sort through the wreckage. FDR and the WPA may be long gone but the professional class remains, and the record of its struggle in the Depression has been thin until now. Roth's incisive diaries are more than a precious time capsule. They speak to our economic hopes and fears directly, and to the bewilderment of our own time."

New York Times
“Mr. Roth’s diaries … are compelling reading, because they force readers to reflect on both the similarities and the differences between then and now…. We’re all a little like Benjamin Roth, asking questions we don’t know the answer to, and wonder, as he did 70 years ago, whether the crisis is, indeed, over.”

Spectator Business(UK)
“Here are brief, unsentimental, clear-eyed notes of the growing sense of hopelessness that came over Midwestern American life. This moving book is edited by [Roth’s] son Daniel.”

“A fascinating read, and strangely familiar.”

Financial Times
“[Roth’s] entries compellingly detail the everyday”

Seattle Times
“Roth’s diary is plainly written and professionally edited. It is a window on another age.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“There is an honest searching quality to his day-by-day accounts of banks closing, bread lines forming, friends failing. Striving to understand, he provides a remarkable and often engagingly literate discussion of the great Depression’s impact on people like him.”

About the Author

James Ledbetter is the editor of "The Big Money,"'s Web site on business and economics. Prior to joining Slate, he was deputy managing editor of, a financial news site. He is the author of several books, a former senior editor of Time Magazine, and his writing has also appeared in several other US publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Nation, Mother Jones, Vibe, Newsday, and The American Prospect. He lives in New York, NY.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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See all 34 customer reviews
In many ways reading this book is like reading today's papers.
Gary Fong
The book itself is incredible, a personal diary of the great depression with personal insights literally by the day.
Ira Thomas
Although at times the diary entries can get a bit tedious, the overall tone of this book is very interesting.
Charles L. Salt

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Stewart on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What makes this book important are its clear similarities to the events of today. In fact, it's hard to read the book and not get the two eras a little confused. Bank closings? Check. Recovery Act bills and government spending? Check. Bankruptcy? Check. Foreclosures and federal foreclosure prevention programs? Check. Partial and full takeovers of industry? Check. Smaller paychecks every year? Yep. (While the editors admit to the release of the book being spurred by the current economic crisis, the cyclical nature of this type of event means the book would actually have been just as important in 1999 or 2006 as it is today.)

Beginning in June 1931, Benjamin Roth recorded in a series of notebooks his observations on the events in Youngstown, Ohio. Highlighted are the sad state of his legal practice throughout the depression years, bank closings and reopenings, steel production levels, growth in the ranks of the unemployed, and extreme deflation in the early years of the depression. Though having no investments of his own, Roth recorded stock prices and dividend payments, and much of the discussion surrounds the best way to have invested if he had been able. Roth worries most about a period of strong inflation spurred by the policies of the Roosevelt administration and about middle-class professionals such as him being bypassed by the growing recovery, but also about the anti-Semitism of the campaign by Republican Alfred M. Landon in the 1936 presidential election, Hitler's takeover of Europe, government control, socialism, losing the gold standard and the rise of organized labor, especially when it led to strikes and violent confrontation in Youngstown. He worries, too, about collecting what is due his practice without causing hardship.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Busy reader on November 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
As a child of the Depression I found The Great Depression: a Diary very interesting and informative. My father was not a professional person and I am sure he did not have any stocks, but the traumatic events that occurred happened to everyone. There are so many similarities to todays events: bank closings, credit problems, the closing of so very many businesses and the institution of so many programs to save jobs and the economy and very few of them having the stimulus needed. I also found it interesting to track the professional person as I have worked for lawyers and they seem to suffer immediately from a downturn in the economy. Apparently it was the same many years ago. A very good read and I would recommend it to anyone who lived through the great depression or would like a comparison of the present situation and the dark days long ago.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By C. A. Mott on November 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I purchased The Great Depression: A Diary after reading Joe Nocera's excellent column about the book which appeared in the New York Times on October 17th. I was most impressed by the book and recommend that it be placed on everybody's list. It would be a great Christmas present for anyone old enough to have lived during the Great Depression, and an eye-opener for those who are struggling to make sense of our current economic situation. As it has been said, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

I found the book hard to put down and believe that it has great historical value. We have all read histories of the Depression, but to read the day-to-day account of a young lawyer who was living it in real time is unique. It was amazing to me to be able to follow the history as it was being made, and it gave me much greater insight into how the so-called middle class suffered. I give it my 5 star approval.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gary Fong on March 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've always wondered why people who emerged from the Great Depression are so different than my generation (boomer). They are more nervous, cautious, a bit fearful, but way more sensible than the carefree, debt-ridden generations that were born after the depression ended. When someone says, "my folks lived through the depression" you know what they're like. Forever changed, savers, and never crazy with investments.
So the chance to read a nunc-pro-tunc account of what daily life was like to a person living in the Great Depression, it's a fantastic historical opportunity to enter a time capsule with such granularity and texture that you feel like you are there.
But what's haunting is the similarities of life then to life today. Phantom ups and downs so the unaware public is being convinced that the worst is over, when in fact, history showed that it was only going to get worse. The government bailouts, and the fear of inflation. In many ways reading this book is like reading today's papers.
Scary and enlightening - it's a great piece of american history.
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33 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
. . .in the end it doesn't deliver.

I was excited about this book as it a new primary source about a pivotal period in economics that remains controversial. While we have many accounts of the Depression, they were written after the events they describe and generally with strong points of view. This is a diary written contemporaneously by a man who didn't know how things would turn out, and wrote to help himself make sense of events rather than to convince others of a preconceived opinions.

The first disappointment is the book contains virtually nothing about life. Only a few period details slip in; learning about the major local banks closing through newsboys shouting "Extra" at four o'clock in the morning; movie theaters cutting costs by eliminating vaudeville acts between features. There is nothing personal, not even personal economics: did he have accounts frozen at banks, did he hoard cash, what cutbacks did he make when times got bad, did he use script or barter when banks were closed? As a result, non-financial history buffs will find nothing of interest, and the book is very dull.

I think this led the published reviewers and also M. Stewart to exaggerate the similarities with today's events. The author records only a few bits of economic data: downtown real estate vacancies, prices of half a dozen stocks and capacity utilization at local steel mills. At that superficial level, all business cycles seem the same. Once again, there are a few interesting bits. The double liability of bank shareholders seemed to be a major impediment to equilibrium and local property taxes based on pre-Depression appraisals forced the demolition of useful buildings.
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