Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Great Depression by David A. Shannon

book cover

The Great Depression
by David A. Shannon

Trade Paperback: 171 pages
Publisher: Prentice Hall Trade
Released: June 1960

Source: Borrowed from my father's personal library.

Book Description from Back Cover:
The Story of the Great Depression Told in Human Terms

What was it like, in 1930, to stand in a cold rain for hours to receive a handout of a loaf of bread? What did a destitute family actually do when city relief funds gave out? How did they survive? Cold rows of statistics do not answer questions like these. This book does.

How can we recapture in some measure the sick feeling of fear and hysteria that swept across the world's richest, most powerful country in the wake of the stock market collapse of 1929? Only by telling the stories of real people who, smug and complacent in the highly touted New Era of Prosperity, found themselves, almost overnight, impoverished and panic-stricken with no recovery in sight.

David A. Shannon's The Great Depression is a journal of human experience during those times: a carefully assembled collection of contemporary articles and news accounts by outstanding writers. Here are vivid documents--case histories--of bands of hungry children roaming the country like scavengers; of men and women seeking jobs in Russia; of shantytowns in New York's Central Park; of hunger riots; of the "lucky" who kept their jobs.

My Review:
The Great Depression is made up of newspaper articles and transcripts of reports made at government committee hearings made during 1929-1934. There were also six case histories about the lives of "ordinary people" during the worst of the Great Depression and how they survived. Some articles were more formal than others, but this book gave a good idea of how the Great Depression affected people from every class and circumstance. This book didn't get into what caused the Great Depression or what was done on the national scale to get out of it except in how those things affected people on a personal scale. I found this book very interesting, and I'd highly recommend it.

Topics covered were unemployment numbers, wage decreases, ways attempted to earn money after a job was lost, relief measures by the government, malnourishment in children, vagrants and migratory workers, bank failures, stock drops, the fear of a violent revolt against the government, and how the depression affected the farmers, middle class, industrial workers, teachers, public schools, and college students.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from pages 26-27
Oscar Ameringer of Oklahoma City described some of this tragedy before a Congressional commitee in February, 1932....

During the last three months I have visited, as I have said, some 20 States of this wonderfully rich and beautiful country. Here are some of the things I heard and saw: In the State of Washington I was told that the forest fires raging in that region all summer and fall were caused by unemployed timber workers and bankrupt farmers in an endeavor to earn a few honest dollars as firefighters. The last thing I saw on the night I left Seattle was numbers of women searching for scrapes of food in the refuse piles of the principal market of that city. A number of Montana citizens told me of thousands of bushels of wheat left in the fields uncut on account of its low price that hardly paid for the harvesting [costs]. In Oregon I saw thousands of apples rotting in the orchards. Only absolutely flawless apples were still salable, at from 40 to 50 cents a box containing 200 apples. At the same time, there are millions of children who, on account of the poverty of their parents, will not eat one apple this winter.

While I was in Oregon the Portland Oregonian bemoaned the fact that thousands of ewes were killed by the sheep raisers because they did not bring enough in the market to pay the freight on them. And while Oregon sheep raisers fed mutton to the buzzards, I saw men picking for meat scraps in the garbage cans in the cities of New York and Chicago.

[Note: If you read the whole book, it wasn't that the farmers were being unfeeling about the hungry people's plight. Due to the low prices for farm goods at the time, many farmers weren't even able to pay the property taxes on their land and were losing their land. They couldn't afford to harvest their fields or animals and go further into debt even faster.]

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