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"Down and Out in the Great Depression" is a moving, revealing collection of letters by the forgotten men, women, and children who suffered through one of the greatest periods of hardship in American history. Sifting through some 15,000 letters from government and private sources, Robert McElvaine has culled nearly 200 communications that best show the problems, thoughts, and emotions of ordinary people during this time. Unlike views of Depression life "from the bottom up" that rely on recollections recorded several decades later, this book captures the daily anguish of people during the thirties. It puts the reader in direct contact with Depression victims, evoking a feeling of what it was like to live through this disaster. Following Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration, both the number of letters received by the White House and the percentage of them coming from the poor were unprecedented. The average number of daily communications jumped to between 5,000 and 8,000, a trend that continued throughout the Roosevelt administration. The White House staff for answering such letters--most of which were directed to FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Harry Hopkins--quickly grew from one person to fifty. Mainly because of his radio talks, many felt they knew the president personally and could confide in him. They viewed the Roosevelts as parent figures, offering solace, help, and protection. Roosevelt himself valued the letters, perceiving them as a way to gauge public sentiment. The writers came from a number of different groups--middle-class people, blacks, rural residents, the elderly, and children. Their letters display emotional reactions to the Depression--despair, cynicism, and anger--and attitudes toward relief. In his extensive introduction, McElvaine sets the stage for the letters, discussing their significance and some of the themes that emerge from them. By preserving their original spelling, syntax, grammar, and capitalization, he conveys their full flavor. The Depression was far more than an economic collapse. It was the major personal event in the lives of tens of millions of Americans. McElvaine shows that, contrary to popular belief, many sufferers were not passive victims of history. Rather, he says, they were "also actors and, to an extent, playwrights, producers, and directors as well," taking an active role in trying to deal with their plight and solve their problems.
Promising that he will not hesitate to call a spade a spade, McElvaine (history, Millsaps College, Mississippi) gathers into one lively volume accounts of the greed, corruption, scriptural distortion, political opportunism, and other sins committed by people in the US today not only pretending to be Christians but also claiming to speak for Jesus himself. The easy road to heaven, biblical inerrancy once Jesus is purged, unintelligent design, and blaming women are among his areas of investigation. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc. , Portland, OR (booknews. com)
One of the classic studies of the Great Depression, featuring a new introduction by the author with insights into the economic crises of 1929 and today. In the twenty-five years since its publication, critics and scholars have praised historian Robert McElvaine's sweeping and authoritative history of the Great Depression as one of the best and most readable studies of the era. Combining clear-eyed insight into the machinations of politicians and economists who struggled to revive the battered economy, personal stories from the average people who were hardest hit by an economic crisis beyond their control, and an evocative depiction of the popular culture of the decade, McElvaine paints an epic picture of an America brought to its knees--but also brought together by people's widely shared plight. In a new introduction, McElvaine draws striking parallels between the roots of the Great Depression and the economic meltdown that followed in the wake of the credit crisis of 2008. He also examines the resurgence of anti-regulation free market ideology, beginning in the Reagan era, and argues that some economists and politicians revised history and ignored the lessons of the Depression era.From the Trade Paperback edition.