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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007)

por Amity Shlaes

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1,3574010,256 (3.78)36
It's difficult today to imagine how America survived the Great Depression--only through the stories of the common people who struggled during that era can we really understand it. These people are at the heart of this reinterpretation of one of the most crucial events of the twentieth century. Author Shlaes presents the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation. Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors. She shows how both Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal programs. The real question about the Depression, she argues, is not whether Roosevelt ended it--it is why it lasted so long.--From publisher description.… (mais)
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Politics in the United States today are divisive. How can I as an individual help? One of my personal goals is to encourage and participate in more political discussions, primarily with those that have a different point of view, and in doing so promote a low-emotion, reasonable approach to these conversations. To that end, this was another of my attempts to look at things from a different perspective. Most of my prior knowledge and impressions about Hoover, FDR and their presidencies, has come from the classroom. Independently I had not developed a strong opinion about Hoover and FDR as leaders or the success or lack thereof of their policies and programs.

I thought Amity Shlaes' The Forgotten Man was an excellent aid in furthering my understanding of this period. It addressed all aspects of this period (approximately 1927-1939): political, cultural, economic and business. She has previously written a biography of Coolidge, which provides her with an excellent foundation for exploring and interpreting Hoover's and FDR's presidencies. I felt throughout this book that the focus stayed on the events of the period. Shlaes lays out her arguments in the Introduction; the body of the book is then the narrative history of the period. Any message or theme came naturally out of how Shlaes presented the events and not from some obvious message that she tried to drive home. I felt as a reader I was allowed to form my own conclusions.

What are some of the arguments that Shlaes presents that make this a New History?

  • It was the production demands of WWII that allowed the US to recover from the Great Depression, not the New Deal programs and policies.


  • Many of Hoover’s and Roosevelt’s actions to help the economy actually had negative impacts and extended the length of the Depression.


  • Both Hoover and Roosevelt placed too much emphasis on control and government planning, rather than encouraging the private sector and allowing the economy to adjust to market forces.


  • Recovery from the Depression was negatively impacted by open confrontation between the private and public sectors in the US, unrecognized and misunderstood deflation, barriers created that discouraged international trade and frequent experimentation by government that created an environment of uncertainty that discouraged private investment.


I will want to read more of this period, but I found myself in general agreement with Schlaes interpretation. One of her primary themes is that we as a country responded to an economic downturn in the wrong ways, thus delaying the recovery and prolonging the pain. She also argues that we responded to a macroeconomic problem with microeconomic solutions. The historical events are provided in the context of the cultural, political and economic changes and trends taking place in the US and overseas.

I think anyone who is interested in this historical period will find this book enjoyable and beneficial. I do recommend you read the Introduction, then the body of the book, and then go back and reread the Introduction. This approach helped me to think through Ms. Shlaes arguments. ( )
  afkendrick | Oct 24, 2020 |
Not an easy read...too many names and some jumping around in time. A very good history of the impact of government intervention in the economy leading up to and during the great depression. Some of the mistakes from that era are certainly being repeated today. History would tell you not to believe politicians when they describe actions as "temporary" or "necessitated by current events". Many of those policies, whether for good or bad, are with us forever. ( )
  Brauer11431 | Apr 16, 2019 |
Should be required reading for every current elected official in federal government as well as senior staff members of the Federal Reserve. ( )
  dele2451 | Jan 2, 2019 |
This book was informative but at times it was very slow and often had far too many details. However, it did give a very accurate feeling of the time and pointed out several changes that were adopted as to the federal government role for the nation. ( )
  cyderry | Dec 5, 2017 |
Interesting book but sometimes dragged down by all the nitty gritty details it presents. Recommend. ( )
  marshapetry | Oct 9, 2016 |
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This new book is the finest history of the Great Depression ever written. Hold on — this is supposed to be a review, not a dust-jacket blurb; but it can’t be helped. Although there are several fine revisionist works about the Great Depression and the New Deal, Shlaes’s achievement stands out for the devastating effect of its understated prose and for its wide sweep of characters and themes. It deserves to become the preeminent revisionist history for general readers. . . .

Those conservatives who lately have inclined to some sentimental affection for FDR (this includes Conrad Black and, occasionally, this writer) will be roundly disabused by the damning portrait Shlaes offers. “Roosevelt was not an ideologue or a radical,” she judges, but his affinity for experimentation and improvisation yielded inconsistent and destabilizing economic policy at a time when certainty was the most needful thing. FDR’s intellectual instability was terrifying in its fullness. . . .

When presidential candidate Ronald Reagan remarked that “fascism was really the basis of the New Deal,” liberals and the media hooted; the Washington Post huffed that “several historians of the New Deal period questioned by the Washington Post said they had no idea what Reagan was referring to.” Thanks to Shlaes’s book, journalists in the future will not be able to plead such ignorance. . . .

We are now so far removed from the economic ruin of the New Deal’s ill-considered economic interventionism that resistance to grand central fixes for health care, global warming, or outsourcing may be on the wane. With this prospect in mind, Shlaes’s book could be called The Forgotten Lesson.
adicionada por TomVeal | editarNational Review, Steven F. Hayward (Jul 30, 2007)
 
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"These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power, for plans like those of 1917 that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid."--Gov. Franklin Roosevelt of New York, Radio Address in Albany, April 7, 1932
"As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B and C shall do for X...What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who is never thought of...
He works, he votes, generally he prays--but he always pays..."---William Graham Sumner, Yale University, 1883
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One November evening long ago in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a thirteen-year-old named William Troeller hanged himself from the transom in his bedroom.
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It's difficult today to imagine how America survived the Great Depression--only through the stories of the common people who struggled during that era can we really understand it. These people are at the heart of this reinterpretation of one of the most crucial events of the twentieth century. Author Shlaes presents the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans, and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation. Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors. She shows how both Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal programs. The real question about the Depression, she argues, is not whether Roosevelt ended it--it is why it lasted so long.--From publisher description.

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