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Thorough, well researched, informative, thought provoking
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 EOverhultz@aol.com