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219 of 267 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, June 19, 2008
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This review is from: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (Paperback)
One reviewer characterizes The Forgotten Man as a "party line polemic," while another says it is "not a polemic." I hold to the latter view, but am not sure this is a plus. Maybe we need a polemic (argument or controversial discussion) about "the Great Depression" to counter some of the nonsense that has been written about it.

Amity Shlaes's book follows a cast of characters from 1927 (Herbert Hoover takes command of the great Flood on the Mississippi) to 1940 (FDR wins reelection to a third term). The players include government planners (Rex Tugwell, Harold Ickes), capitalists (Andrew Mellon, Wendell Wilkie, Alfred Loomis), economists (Irving Fisher, John Keynes), jurists ("the four horsemen," Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson), small businessmen (the Schechter brothers), labor leaders (John L. Lewis), social activists (Father Divine), and politicians (Herbert Hoover, FDR, and ultimately Wilkie).

Many of the incidents related are unflattering to the persons involved, including both Hoover and FDR, but Shlaes does not appear to have a partisan axe to grind. Indeed, she spends more time discussing the foibles, dreams, and conflicts of the characters than assessing their accomplishments. The narrative jumps around from person to person in a manner resembling "the grapevine" segment of the Brit Hume Show on Fox News.

The point is made (repeatedly) that the Depression went on longer than might have been expected if the Roosevelt administration had not sought to intervene in so many areas of the economy. Such a conclusion seems rather obvious, however, and it is hardly novel. If you are looking for an insightful analysis of what caused the Depression or the merits of the New Deal, you will not find it in this book.

Still, The Forgotten Man provides many interesting and at times telling details about the leading figures of the period across the political spectrum. It is worth reading for that purpose.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 27, 2008 12:11:50 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 27, 2008 12:12:25 PM PST
Whipple is quite right in writing, "If you are looking for insightful analysis of what caused the Depression or the merits of the New Deal, you will not find it in this book." Schlaes is a neo con economist publishing when those economic theories have been proven wrong. Certainly she is trying to be a revisionist historian and trying to re-write history to fit the neo con view of the world but fails. She shows no understanding of the labor movement or the importance of the working class in America.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2009 12:02:59 AM PST
IVFarmboy says:
Are you kidding???

What these "New Ideas" of the current administration haven't been proven in the past to be folly??? Spend money you dont have on items you dont need and your economy will come back, yeah that is proven... We need to split the country in half and try your ideas and try the free market, WITH REGULATIONS enforced!!!, and see who is the failed state and who can afford to take in the other. Of course labor is important but labor is labor is labor WHAT MADE AMERICA AMERICA is our capitalistic ideals. Work hard and you get the "CHANCE" at success and the chance of failure. All the big names in industry failed at least once but they came back out of it because we dont punish failure. BTW - All the big industry leaders, historically, came from hard work and being laborers themselves. I just see nothing in her book that attacks labor per se. Are you saying that only corporations played hardball in the 30s, NOT the unions also?

Seems the only political input is yours.

Posted on Mar 6, 2009 11:32:13 AM PST
C. A. Temm says:
I find it hard to believe this book isn't considered insightful by you. She went down the line and over and over again, allowed one to see the failure of such policies. This kind of book is the exact opposite of the view of FDR as the savior still taught in schools today. Because of such ignorance, we seem doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes, case in point is Obama right down to the rants against the evil rich.

Posted on Sep 28, 2009 2:08:56 PM PDT
RT says:
Obama is the Antichrist! Uhhh, wait, sorry but I meant to say, this book is a Fair and Balanced account of the great depression and how FDR and his liberal welfare state ruined the country just like Obama today wants to destroy the country and kill all the white people so that no one will complain when he and Al Queda have their satanic rituals where they eat babies alive. Totally non-ideological, just like all of the reviews here, TFM is a much-needed account of what REALLY happened in American economic policy between the crash of '29 and WWII, a period about which little was written prior to 2008. Full disclosure: I only got part way through it before the Brit Hume Show came on...

Posted on Mar 6, 2010 9:21:09 AM PST
Stuck on "polemic".
Actually, Amity Shlaes calls it as it was an doesn't take sides.
This book outlines, and is almost a blueprint, of what we see going on currently, 2009-2010, in America.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 22, 2011 3:10:15 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Aug 22, 2011 3:33:07 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 22, 2011 3:29:56 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 22, 2011 3:31:46 AM PDT
Dino Ierardo says:
I agree...... and find the unceremonious departure of Larry Summers exit from the stage unseemly; and find the silent surrender of this most Keynesian high priest the most loud surrender of Keynesian pump-primers to Friedman and the Austrian classicists of Von Mises

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2011 12:44:43 PM PDT
Jerseytime says:
Indeed. As with all books on history, one must always "know the author".

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 3, 2013 9:20:23 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 3, 2013 9:22:41 AM PST
Witty, on-point, and illustrates precisely what is wrong with taking Shlaes too seriously.

I think she is providing a(n unfortunately) needed function that allows conservatives to become more humanistic and understanding of the real people who are hurt by their failed policies. She purposely gives more weight to folksy narratives and less to policy. Doing the opposite would ideologically traumatize conservatives before they allow themselves to comprehend that the real-life, economic traumas they've inflicted on everyone else are bigger concerns. It's a horrible defect of their thinking, but one with which I suppose we must contend.

Thanks for your review.

Posted on Mar 23, 2014 9:25:42 AM PDT
Amity Shlaes majored in English at Yale. She is not trained as an economist nor is she trained as an historian. In these areas she is an autodidact, mostly auto and very little didact. Mr. Whipple lists himself as a "financial advisor" and is apparently an avid book reviewer. Her book and his reviewer's comments should, given their backgrounds, surprise no one. Neither of them lived through the depression; I did. (Curiously, the term Hoovervilles" appears nowhere in the book's index.)
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