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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression Paperback – May 27, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
This breezy narrative comes from the pen of a veteran journalist and economics reporter. Rather than telling a new story, she tells an old one (scarcely lacking for historians) in a fresh way. Shlaes brings to the tale an emphasis on economic realities and consequences, especially when seen from the perspective of monetarist theory, and a focus on particular individuals and events, both celebrated and forgotten (at least relatively so). Thus the spotlight plays not only on Andrew Mellon, Wendell Wilkie and Rexford Tugwell but also on Father Divine and the Schechter brothers—kosher butcher wholesalers prosecuted by the federal National Recovery Administration for selling "sick chickens." As befits a former writer for the Wall Street Journal, Shlaes is sensitive to the dangers of government intervention in the economy—but also to the danger of the government's not intervening. In her telling, policymakers of the 1920s weren't so incompetent as they're often made out to be—everyone in the 1930s was floundering and all made errors—and WWII, not the New Deal, ended the Depression. This is plausible history, if not authoritative, novel or deeply analytical. It's also a thoughtful, even-tempered corrective to too often unbalanced celebrations of FDR and his administration's pathbreaking policies. 16 pages of b&w photos. (June 12)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Its duration and depth made the Depression "Great," and Shlaes, a prominent conservative economics journalist, considers why a decade of government intervention ameliorated but never tamed it. With vitality uncommon for an economics history, Shlaes chronicles the projects of Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt as well as these projects' effect on those who paid for them. Reminding readers that the reputedly do-nothing Hoover pulled hard on the fiscal levers (raising tariffs, increasing government spending), Shlaes nevertheless emphasizes that his enthusiasm for intervention paled against the ebullient FDR's glee in experimentation. She focuses closely on the influence of his fabled Brain Trust, her narrative shifting among Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and other prominent New Dealers. Businesses that litigated their resistance to New Deal regulations attract Shlaes' attention, as do individuals who coped with the despair of the 1930s through self-help, such as Alcoholics Anonymous cofounder Bill Wilson. The book culminates in the rise of Wendell Willkie, and Shlaes' accent on personalities is an appealing avenue into her skeptical critique of the New Deal. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Amity Shales is not just an accurate writer she is engaging. I read this book a few years ago & it really opened my eyes beyond the canned history I got in school. I can't remember who I loaned it out to & apparently they loved it because it was never returned to me! I was happy to re-buy the book for my children.
Lord of the Flies was a seminal book in my childhood - it made me want to read everything. The Forgotten Man is a seminal book of my adulthood - I became a voracious reader of history after reading this book.
Thank you for writing it!
Who is the forgotten man of The Great Depression? The Wall Street tycoon, the homeless, the apple vendor, the WPA laborer, or the woman in the most famous photograph of the period by Dorothy Lange titled Migrant Mother? In many respects the answer lies with none of the aforementioned. Shlaes makes the case that the forgotten man of the 1930s was those who today would be referenced as the great middle class. The parallels between The Great Depression and The Great Recession are enlightening and Shlaes places in historical perspective the lost opportunities of an entire generation of Americans, then and now.
Surely this book is a study of the New Deal and what forms of government intervention did and did not work. Shlaes is certainly not a hero worshiper of FDR or of the New Deal but my take on this book is that it offers a balanced look at the multitude of factors surrounding Roosevelt, his advisors, detractors and the enormity of the recovery programs during the period.
Most provocative and compelling is the insight and comparisons to the economic conditions in which the U.S. Economy finds itself today. The Forgotten Man of the 1930s is very much present in the displaced middle class of 2013. Is today's forgotten man the family bread-winner out of work because of the government shutdown, the child in need of medical care, the returning veteran, the foreclosed upon and the forgotten? The similarities are ever-present.
An aside from within The Forgotten Man is the startling comparison of how politically effectively FDR communicated the New Deal through the then new medium, radio, the 1930s version of today's social media. Radio was FDR's bully pulpit. A very interesting analogy.
You may also wish to consider Shlaes Coolidge. ( see gordonsgoodreads ) While Amity Shlaes is certainly not a liberal, I think both The Forgotten Man and Coolidge are balanced. I would recommend reading Coolidge first. By doing so, the New Deal is placed in greater perspective. gordonsgoodreads.com
Some give FDR the credit for ending that deflation while others credit World War II with being the main terminator.
While many liberals flocked to the the Roosevelt's administration, in the end the "forgotten man" ended up paying for FDR's many experiments.
Mrs Shlaes spent many years researching those experiments. And while she lists many of her sources, such as Frederick Lewis Allen's "Only Yesterday," she understandably omitted Allen's "Since Yesterday," a competing history of the 1930s
I get the impression that Mrs Shales wishes she had been able to make the trip to Russia and speak with Joseph Stalin. As one who has worked both in the public sector (as a teacher) and the private sector (as a commodity broker) I firmly believe Harry Truman's statement that the only thing new under the sun is the history we have not read. In other words history repeats itself.