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on May 14, 1998
T.H. Watkins takes the reader on a fascinating journey into life in America during the late 1920's and 1930's in his book "The Great Depression-America in the 1930's".Well-researched, thoroughly written, and graced with an astounding collection of photos that truly capture the pain and desperation of America at the time, this book belongs on the bookshelf of anyone with an interest in American history, politics, and societal behavior.
Millions of Americans who had been raised on the belief that hard work, discipline, and thrift would see them through were shell shocked by their sudden fall upon hard times-due of course to events largely out of their control. As never before, suddenly the adequacy of self-sufficiency and individualism (qualities inherent in the model of the "good American") were called into question, and with the forces of international economics, politics, growing industrial unionism, racism, adverse weather conditions, and historical fate combining to produce a bitter pill to swallow, it is easy to see why the 1930's was a time for some of the most angry, chaotic, and divergent politics ever.
As one would expect, the dealings of the Hoover and FDR administrations are given much mention in this book, but so too are many other locales of political activity. From Louisiana Senator Huey Long's bellicose populist calls to "share our wealth", to the concerted efforts of Midwest farmers in intimidating foreclosing bankers, to the fears expressed by world watching Republicans and Democrats alike that America was writing its own dangerous Bolshevik script-Watkins' book drives home the idea that the politics of this era was interesting not for its own sake or for its ideological diversity, but because there was a real sense of urgency and crisis-politics really did matter.
While the author examines the Great Depression through the eyes of many different types of people, including the world's most powerful businessmen and politicians, it is the stories! coming from the poverty stricken that are the most heartbreaking. One account told the story of a teacher in dirt poor Appalachia ordering a sickly thin girl to go home and get something to eat-only to hear from the girl that she couldn't, because it was her brother's turn to eat that day.
While the book is certainly full of stories depicting the hard times of the downtrodden and the ugly injustices that they endured (and also sometimes inflicted), there are also stories about struggling Americans who steadfastly never gave up, and retained their streak of gritty self-determination-even if it meant selling apples in New York or oranges in New Orleans for a nickel a piece to make ends meet. As I read of the hardships that Americans faced during the Great Depression, and their ways for coping with the tough times, I can't help but wonder how today's instant-gratification society-with all of its consumer debt and poor saving habits-would cope under similar adverse conditions. Watkins concludes his book with a tribute to the people of the Great Depression era, remarking that "if we shape our world half as well as the men and women of the 1930's, we will have gone a long way towards honoring our own obligation to the future."
Fine words from a fine historian and author.
Erich Overhultz, B.A., M.P.A. Florida Atlantic University
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on November 3, 2008
Although rich and varied in its summary of the impact the "Great Depression" had on American culture, this continuation of the PBS documentary of the same name is broad but not very deep. As I only caught the "tail end" of the TV version of this documentary, my purpose for reading the book was to "round out" what I had missed in search of a better handle on the reasons that actually caused the "Great Depression." But unfortunately for me, on that particular issue, this book provided only limited answers. It merely "skates lightly along the surface" of the causes, in an almost polemical way: making only backhanded references to bank failures, stock market speculation, and the laxity of regulations, more generally. What I expected, but did not get, was a robust narrative or economic analysis to go with the somewhat "left-leaning" polemics.

Given our present search for solutions to the 2008 economic meltdown, and the "sea change" that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's government programs represented in altering the course of the social contract between government and the people, it did not seems unreasonable to me to expect a much more thorough analysis of the economic causes of the great depression. And while the book did not satisfy my demands on that score, it did provide something infinitely more valuable: It showed just beyond the text, that the ultimate schism in American culture is not just the one that moves along the gridline that divides us by race, but also along the deeper more philosophical issue of how the nation is to organize itself economically.

Here, both in the text, and in relief, we can see ever so clearly that it is the constant tension between what is perceived to be the "corporate good" and the "common good" that serves as the backdrop for so much of American politics and a great deal of American culture. From this photographic version of John Steinbeck's famous novel, "Grapes of Wrath," we get to see how these tensions came about; how they got played out and negotiated both through formal politics and through informal political action and pressures in the public spaces, and how they all can be vectored directly back to the major philosophical and cultural divisions in our culture: That is to say between "rugged individualism and Puritanism;" between the dwindling concept of the "common good" and the "rising emphasis on the corporate managed state;" between "socially adjusted organization man" and "socially free activist cultural man; between liberalism and conservatism, and indeed between "corporate profits" and government's responsibility for providing for the nation's welfare, or for the "common good."

That so much can be uncovered from reading between the lines of this history and abstracting from its haunting pictures, will simply leave the reader exhausted and in complete awe of how deep the psychic scars of the "great Depression," actually have been on American culture.

Four Stars
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on June 14, 2010
This book very accurately portrays life in the 30's and the crucial role FDR played in ameliorating the devestating conditions of that era.Many current day commentators downplay or belittle the role that FDR played in this regard. This book corrects that misconception and sets the record straight.
Unfortunately, the photographs, though excellent and some of which I had never seen before, were of very poor quality in the paperback edition.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon February 12, 2004
This is the first book I've read that is totally about the Great Depression.However,I have read all of Steinbeck's,Erskine Caldwell's and numerous by and about Woody Guthrie as well as many about Capone and other Gangsters.While these were all about the same period,they tended to zero in on specific ways of life,even though one aspect of the depression did not escape the effect of another.The black sharecroppers in the Deep South of Caldwell,the bootlegging,clubs and turf wars of Chicago of Capone and Ness,the Dust Bowl migrations of the Oakies of Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie give detailed insight of people living through these times but but each went on almost oblivous to each other.What Watkins has done is to deal with every
thing during the Depression and somewhat ties it all together. This is was no mean feat.
He leaned towards Government,Big Business ,Politics , Unions and other Organizations and shows how they were the source of the problems and in the final analysis had to be the solution. It was not the honest,hard working ,good,trusting majority of the people who suffered so much,that brought on this mess and they were sure helpless to correct it.As a matter of fact most of the systems prevented them by law and control from doing so.
Watkins gives most of the credit of getting things turned around to FDR and there is no doubt that he had to fight everyone to do it;in many cases his own party.This has often been the case in America from the times of Washington to Bush of today.Often the President stands alone and as Truman said "The buck stops here!" The great presidents had what it took to deal with the challenges of their times.The less great did not.
America was flat on its back and pulled itself up by its bootstraps without the help of any other country.In only a few years became strong enough to lead the charge to defeat the enemies in WWII.
The Commander of the Japanese Fleet that led the Surprise Attack on Pearl Harbor said it all.."I fear all we have managed to do is to wake a sleeping giant." How right he was!
The book is well researched,well written,well organized with many excellent photographs.On top of that, it is easy reading--for a History book.
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on November 21, 2015
Left wing leanings unmistakable, but full of interesting facts as well. Never misses an opportunity to shoot at Republicans and talk of how the hopes and dreams of the millions were finally brought to light by those loving Democrats. A classic example from p.224, where he discusses how anti-lynching legislation was once again put on hold (after many years of trying) by four deep south Senators who threatened filibuster. Of course, all were life-long Democrats, a fact not mentioned. Had they been Republicans, each would have had a capital R next to their name, along with some comment on how this was just another example of racist Republican obstructionism (sound anything like what you hear today)? So just keep this kind of thing in mind as you read this book, which aside from it's painfully obvious ideological leanings is a good read. He is at his best when he discusses how the 'New Deal' had fallen short its rhetoric allowing some Democrats to take some of the blame. Much more fair and balanced.
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on January 5, 2013
Fantastic book detailing the events of this unique period in American History. I bought the book to try to get insight into our current economic situation. Maybe it didn't generate any profound insights on how to manage or position myself to avoid the Great Depression expereince but a great read nonetheless.
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on August 30, 1999
This is a wonderful book with oodles of photos! The best and most accessible history of the Great Depression I have ever seen.
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on November 12, 2014
It's filled with information, but it's the most tedious and boring thing I've ever had to read.
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on May 26, 2015
A seemingly biased view of the era.
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on December 8, 2000
The pictures are plentiful and very helpful in this unbalanced overview of the Great Depression, the research and writing are admirable, but the tone shows a subtle and insidious bias in favor of unions, socialists and minorities. No where near enough attention is paid to the everyday struggle of people to simply survive. Watkins pays little attention to organized crime, bootlegging and petty thievery that raise the level of fear of all citizens during that period. Watkins also ignores the efforts made by many small, medium and large businesses help their employees get by, choosing instead to paint businesses as manifestations of the evils of capitalism. Far too emotional for a scholarly work.
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