In the face of the current economic uncertainty, there has been a renewed interest in the greatest period of privation in living memory, that of the global Great Depression of the 1930s. This volume in Greenhaven’s Perspectives on Modern World History uses a combination of retrospective historical overview and rich primary sources to explore the political, social, and economic issues related to that earlier economic collapse and recovery.
The book opens with an overview of the time period and historical background reprinted from UXL’s Roaring Twenties series. Much of the book is made up of a range of first-hand, contemporary accounts. Particularly enthralling is The New York Times coverage of the stock market crash on Oct. 29, 1929, as reports detail the trading activity before and after. There is also a compelling account of a 1932 strike organized by Midwestern farmers who, given the deflationary prices allocated agricultural products, refused to send goods to market. Another account describes agricultural experimentation to counter the Dust Bowl drought and erosion.
Two recent essays look at the role of Hoover’s presidential policies in exacerbating the worsening economic conditions. To contrast with such modern-day analysis, a pair of articles is drawn from that iconic American publication, The Saturday Evening Post. Also compelling is Roosevelt’s speech defending government intervention. Even in the midst of the New Deal, economists argued stridently whether the federal spending was stimulating or enervating the economy.
Two still-applicable articles debate the privatization of public utilities. Both from 1937, the pieces center around the still-controversial Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) underselling private utilities, the roots of a current-day debate that may be of particular interest to students in areas of Appalachia still served by the TVA. A final pair of articles, both from 2009, explicitly contrasts today’s climate with that of the 1930s. One of those articles, a Brooking Institute policy brief, uses the recessionary trends to argue for large-scale public works projects.
The third segment features personal narratives, including those of a woman who turned the failing economy to her advantage as a landlady and a Civilian Conservation Corps enlistee who praised the program for transforming him through enforced camaraderie. There are also lyrics from a folk song, in translation as well as in the original Spanish, about a Mexican immigrant being deported from the United States, another issue relevant to modern students.
As befits a fairly serious historical work, there is dense text only occasionally broken with images and pull-out quotations. Supplemental materials add to the overall richness of the work. A chronology includes the establishment of New York Stock Exchange and catalogs the establishment of the various New Deal public works programs. Books, periodicals, and carefully curated websites offer further reading, and there is an index. Highly recommended for schools and public libraries.