Publisher and Publication Date: Harper Perennial. May 2008.
From Goodreads, a bio on Amy Shlaes.
On page 7, Shlaes explains what caused the Great Depression: the stock market crash, problems in the Federal Reserve, deflation, international trade, the Dust Bowl, severe floods, and insecurity about the stock market.
For my grandparents, they knew or understood little of what was going on in politics and the marketplace. They only understood they needed to work to feed their families.
The Great Depression is one of my favorite periods in history to read. My parents grew up during the Depression years. They are considered the Greatest Generation. Dad shared many stories of his childhood. Often, he was the wage earner for the family. My grandfather who was a cement finisher did not have much work. Dad built a little wagon and walked the streets of his home town in search of scrap iron to sell. He delivered the newspaper. He carried suitcases for the people disembarking from the train. There was a sugar bowl in the kitchen of my dad’s home. He placed his hard earned money in the bowl. That money was only for him and his mother to use. Dad said they always had a house to live in, and they always had a garden to eat from. Things like coats and shoes were scarce.
Back to the book.
Amity Shlaes is a respected economic commentator. She is branded as a conservative. I know little about her background except what is shown on the back cover and the Goodreads bio.
I didn’t see the book as a hateful piece against Roosevelt and his policies. But I didn’t read the book with the mindset he was a perfect president. And the author mentions this same belief. Personally, I believe he was the right president for that era. He made good decisions and bad decisions, just as we all do. His speeches encouraged and comforted an anxious nation. My grandparents and parents loved him. He was their hero.
At the beginning of each chapter a few things are noted: the date, average unemployment percentage and the Dow Jones number. I loved this, it set the chapter.
The unemployment is a significant factor for Shlaes. She feels “to little has been paid” to this information. In the book, this is one of her strong themes: unemployment, what was done to help this, and it did not become strong till the war.
The Forgotten Man looks at the failures of the New Deal, but it also looks at the positives.
A historical story I did not expect in the book is the severe floods during this era. The Mississippi flood of 1927. Yes, this is pre-stock market crash event, but was an important part carrying over in to the Depression years.
The next chapters preceded the birth pangs of the overcorrection of the stock market and the crash.
By chapter six we learn about the Tennessee Valley, which was one of the poorest areas in America. The TVA or Tennessee Valley Authority was the New Deal’s biggest project.
People like Father Divine, Paul Mellon, Dorothea Lange, and Wendell Willkie are shown by the work they took part in or created during the Depression years. Before reading this book I’d only known of Dorothea Lange, so this was beneficial to me to read about the other historical figures.
What I did not like about the book is it’s big on facts and figures. For a person who is not strong on nonfiction, this book might be a turn-off. I love nonfiction history books, but I still struggled at times, becoming bogged down with the minutia of information.
The book does not share stories from the common people of this time period. I had hoped to read about the people who were really living and surviving during the Great Depression.
Being poor was no longer a passing even-it was beginning to seem like a way of life. Page 352.