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American-Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA: When FDR Put the Nation to Work

4.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0553802351
ISBN-10: 0553802356
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Launched in 1935, at the bottom of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) served as a linchpin of FDR's New Deal. Through the WPA, Roosevelt put millions of unemployed Americans to work on public construction projects, from dams and courthouses to parks and roads. The WPA's Federal Writers Project employed a host of artists and writers (among them Jackson Pollock, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston and Studs Terkel); theater and musical artists also received funding. Taylor (Ordinary Miracles: Life in a Small Church) vividly and painstakingly paints the full story of the WPA from its inception to its shutdown by Congress in 1943, at which point the war boom in manufacturing had made it unnecessary. In an eloquent and balanced appraisal, Taylor not only chronicles the WPA's numerous triumphs (including New York's LaGuardia Airport) but also its failures, most notably graft and other chicanery at the local level. Taylor details as well the dicey intramural politics in Congress over which states and districts would get the largest slice of the WPA pie. All told, Taylor's volume makes for a splendid appreciation of the WPA with which to celebrate the upcoming 75th anniversary of the New Deal's beginnings in 1933. (Mar. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency in March 1933, the rate of unemployment was approximately 25 percent. Staples of today’s government support system for the needy, such as unemployment compensation and food stamps, did not exist. Roosevelt had not campaigned as a big government “liberal,” but he and his brain trust felt compelled to do something and do it fast. One of the cornerstones of the New Deal was the WPA, or Works Progress Administration. It was a controversial program. Conservative economists and politicians viewed it as an unwarranted and wasteful intrusion of government into the economy But as Taylor illustrates in this comprehensive analysis of the program, the short-term results, over the eight-year life of the program, were enormous. Dams, roads, and bridges were built; on a smaller scale, WPA workers painted murals, served hot meals to the indigent, and even repaired toys. Perhaps more important, hope was provided for the hopeless. Taylor has written a passionate defense of a program that millions saw as a godsend. --Jay Freeman
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam (February 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553802356
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553802351
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.7 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,356,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. C Sheehy on April 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting and highly readable overview of how the average American, namely those hurt the worst by the Great Depression were able to get back on their feet and help boost the country along with them. American-Made doesn't intend to sanctify the WPA and does a great job at showing how in many cases there were glaring imperfections both in management and in how it was run. Still, the over reaching theme is how the WPA succeeded in its overall mission of giving people hope and of finding ways to boost the economy without treading on the concept of handing out charity to people too proud to receive it. There is also an excellent table setting which demonstrates the feeble attempts of the Hoover administration to deal with the Depression. Needless to say they all failed miserably.

There are two weaknesses to the book that prevent me from giving it five stars. The first is that it falls to far into jargonism and we see too many alphabet soup agencies which were common at the time but make the story tough to follow as a reader sometimes you have to go back several pages to remember what this was or that was. Also, the stories of the individual workers are fascinating and while Harry Hopkins and FDR are well known these people are not and their own experiences with the WPA and more of their reminisces would have been welcome. But still overall this is a great book worth reading!
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Format: Hardcover
History is what it is. When written, it can be entertaining, or the most pathetic bore imaginable. Nick Taylor has done an applaudable feat of telling the tale of the country's ascention from the depression in an entertaining and highly acceptable manner that reads far more like a novel than a historical review.

At better than 500 pages, American-Made begins after the prosperity of the 1920s and leads us to World War II by following the trails taken to put one-third of the American people to work.

For anyone having read Grapes of Wrath, American-Made recalls much of the same hardship and futility experienced by Steinbeck's Joad family, only on a much grander, but just as readable, scale. Why did Hoover think that the answer to the country's problems literally could be solved with a song, and where did the poor and hungry find apples to sell for a nickle are just two of the dozens of tales incorporated into this book.

I also particularly enjoyed his simple, untold tales of American ingenuity, and was surprised to discover how many WPA projects endure today. From building gravel roads, to constructing a podium for FDR, the author has done a superb job of capturing the era while keeping the reader's attention and interest.

Paraphrasing Howard O. Hunter, Commissioner of the WPA, .."the full accomplishments of the WPA will never by known. It has simply been too large in figures and volume of things done to get it all in one brief statement." Taylor tries, and does a commendable job of it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was very excited to read this book, as I had seen an exhibit at the Smithsonian of fine art created as part of the WPA. Initially the book seemed to fit the bill, but the further I got the more it seemed like the author had done absolutely exhaustive research and couldn't bear to leave anything out! It is very informative, and very thorough, and I learned a ton about an historic episode that has great parallels to the current "Great Recession." But it was not a very enjoyable reading experience. The couple of great personal stories were left hanging - until a coda at the end of the book. The effort to introduce some suspense seemed contrived. The writing was not difficult to read or heavy, but it was a bit like wading through the biblical passages of who begat whom, lots of lists of events or projects or names without a cohesive arc of any kind.
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Format: Hardcover
I've only read a few chapters in this book, but if you replace the years 1930 with the years 2007-?, is there any difference between what happened in the depression of the 30s with what is happening today? Food prices skyrocketing, homes being lost, unemployment moving up the scale, a President who doesn't want to be involved on the federal level. I think that everyone who wants to see this country survive, who has their head in the sands, needs to read this book today to better understand what is going to happen to us tomorrow. I will update this review once I finish the book.
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Format: Hardcover
I've always been fascinated by the New Deal and this book delivers. I read it over the weekend and enjoyed the story and the writer's style. Full of information, but never leaving the human side behind. The author obviously agrees with the philosophy behind the WPA and New Deal, but is also willing to confront the mistakes and errors of both.
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Format: Hardcover
There are, doubtless, more than a few scholarly histories of various aspects of the New Deal which presuppose a good amount of knowledge on the part of the reader. And there are also plenty of general overviews of FDR and the Great Depression. So, it's nice to have a history of the WPA that is somewhere halfway between these two kinds of studies.
Taylor's book is a combination of "great man" history (FDR and Harry Hopkins, mostly) and oral history chapters, detailing the experiences of persons representative of the millions of WPA workers. The author's sympathy with all involved is evident, but he isn't blinded to some of their faults. For example, Franklin Roosevelt is depicted as being oblivious to the political consequences of his 1937 "court-packing" scheme, and it is shown that the WPA arts programs were pretty much left to fend for themselves when Martin Dies' House Committee on Un-American Activities went looking for a whipping boy.
A very convenient glossary at the end of the book gives a list of the New Deal's "alphabet soup" agencies.
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