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The Great Depression: A Diary Hardcover – October 13, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Charles R. Morris, The Trillion Dollar Meltdown
“Benjamin Roth has left us a vivid portrait of the Great Depression that is all the more powerful for the similarities and differences with the financial upheavals of today. Roth enables us -- in ways no historian can match -- to immerse ourselves in the sense of despair that Americans of that era felt and their hope that the economy would revive, long before it did. To read the diaries now is both enlightening and chilling.”

Jonathan Alter, The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
“We imagine the Great Depression at two extremes--Franklin Roosevelt's jaunty smile and the haunting images of Dustbowl destitution. But in between were everyday middle class strivers like Benjamin Roth, trying to sort through the wreckage. FDR and the WPA may be long gone but the professional class remains, and the record of its struggle in the Depression has been thin until now. Roth's incisive diaries are more than a precious time capsule. They speak to our economic hopes and fears directly, and to the bewilderment of our own time."

New York Times
“Mr. Roth’s diaries … are compelling reading, because they force readers to reflect on both the similarities and the differences between then and now…. We’re all a little like Benjamin Roth, asking questions we don’t know the answer to, and wonder, as he did 70 years ago, whether the crisis is, indeed, over.”

Spectator Business(UK)
“Here are brief, unsentimental, clear-eyed notes of the growing sense of hopelessness that came over Midwestern American life. This moving book is edited by [Roth’s] son Daniel.”

“A fascinating read, and strangely familiar.”

Financial Times
“[Roth’s] entries compellingly detail the everyday”

Seattle Times
“Roth’s diary is plainly written and professionally edited. It is a window on another age.”

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“There is an honest searching quality to his day-by-day accounts of banks closing, bread lines forming, friends failing. Striving to understand, he provides a remarkable and often engagingly literate discussion of the great Depression’s impact on people like him.”

About the Author

James Ledbetter is the editor of "The Big Money," Slate.com's Web site on business and economics. Prior to joining Slate, he was deputy managing editor of CNNMoney.com, a financial news site. He is the author of several books, a former senior editor of Time Magazine, and his writing has also appeared in several other US publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Nation, Mother Jones, Vibe, Newsday, and The American Prospect. He lives in New York, NY.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1St Edition edition (October 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648799X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586487997
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #658,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Matthew Stewart on October 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
What makes this book important are its clear similarities to the events of today. In fact, it's hard to read the book and not get the two eras a little confused. Bank closings? Check. Recovery Act bills and government spending? Check. Bankruptcy? Check. Foreclosures and federal foreclosure prevention programs? Check. Partial and full takeovers of industry? Check. Smaller paychecks every year? Yep. (While the editors admit to the release of the book being spurred by the current economic crisis, the cyclical nature of this type of event means the book would actually have been just as important in 1999 or 2006 as it is today.)

Beginning in June 1931, Benjamin Roth recorded in a series of notebooks his observations on the events in Youngstown, Ohio. Highlighted are the sad state of his legal practice throughout the depression years, bank closings and reopenings, steel production levels, growth in the ranks of the unemployed, and extreme deflation in the early years of the depression. Though having no investments of his own, Roth recorded stock prices and dividend payments, and much of the discussion surrounds the best way to have invested if he had been able. Roth worries most about a period of strong inflation spurred by the policies of the Roosevelt administration and about middle-class professionals such as him being bypassed by the growing recovery, but also about the anti-Semitism of the campaign by Republican Alfred M. Landon in the 1936 presidential election, Hitler's takeover of Europe, government control, socialism, losing the gold standard and the rise of organized labor, especially when it led to strikes and violent confrontation in Youngstown. He worries, too, about collecting what is due his practice without causing hardship.
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Format: Hardcover
As a child of the Depression I found The Great Depression: a Diary very interesting and informative. My father was not a professional person and I am sure he did not have any stocks, but the traumatic events that occurred happened to everyone. There are so many similarities to todays events: bank closings, credit problems, the closing of so very many businesses and the institution of so many programs to save jobs and the economy and very few of them having the stimulus needed. I also found it interesting to track the professional person as I have worked for lawyers and they seem to suffer immediately from a downturn in the economy. Apparently it was the same many years ago. A very good read and I would recommend it to anyone who lived through the great depression or would like a comparison of the present situation and the dark days long ago.
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Format: Hardcover
I purchased The Great Depression: A Diary after reading Joe Nocera's excellent column about the book which appeared in the New York Times on October 17th. I was most impressed by the book and recommend that it be placed on everybody's list. It would be a great Christmas present for anyone old enough to have lived during the Great Depression, and an eye-opener for those who are struggling to make sense of our current economic situation. As it has been said, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."

I found the book hard to put down and believe that it has great historical value. We have all read histories of the Depression, but to read the day-to-day account of a young lawyer who was living it in real time is unique. It was amazing to me to be able to follow the history as it was being made, and it gave me much greater insight into how the so-called middle class suffered. I give it my 5 star approval.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A very large part of the book repeats over and over again some very basic financial rules for surviving a depression: wait for the low price point; buy with cash, not margin; wait for the high price, sell; hold onto till the highest high; have a ready supply of cash on hand; bonds give steady returns, government bonds the most secure. Then there is a litany about how difficult this is without a crystal ball.
Another major theme in the book deals with how hard the Depression was on the law profession. The Diary did paint a very depressing picture of all the bank failures, everywhere. It helped me understand why my parents and grandparents never really trusted banks.
Overall somewhat depressing and not very informative. The editor's notes are from 2009 and are very dated as they were done at the very beginning of our Great Recession.
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My father was born in 1932. The only thing my father said about the Great Depression was about being hungry all the time when he was a boy. He and his brother were once so hungry they ate dried powder Jell-O. My dad turned out to be a hoarder of scrap wood, nuts, and bolts on his farm.

My father-in-law was born in 1920. He turned out to have a life long hatred of the stock market and refused to ever invest in stocks.

After reading this book, I better appreciate how the Depression experience changed their lives forever.

During the Roaring Twenties, the Dow Jones average grew at a compounded growth rate of 16% a year. It increased from about 100 in 1920 to 381 in 1929. This boom period is similar to the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. In each of these decades, the stock market appreciated at a compounded annual growth rate of about 18%.

It is hard for me to comprehend the stock market shrinking in value by 90%. I first started investing in stock mutual funds in 1980. I lived through the 1-day decline of 22% in 1987, and the roughly 50% declines in both the Tech Wreck of 2000 and the Sub-Prime Crash of 2008. I stayed the course and stayed fully invested through these declines. I am not sure I could stay the course through a 90% decline like in the Depression.

It was interesting to read about Roth's struggles to understand all the economic factors changing around him. It seems that 70 years later in 2008, nobody really understands economics yet. When the first rumbling of troubles in the real estate market surfaced in 2006, I remember an "expert" talking head on TV commenting on the situation.
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