The Great Depression, America 1929-1941 by Robert Mcelvaine - a Review

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Most historians agree that the Second World War is the single most important event shaping and directing subsequent developments throughout the balance of the 20th century. Indeed, no single other event so shaped the world or influenced the events leading to that war than did the great worldwide depression. In this wonderful book by historian Robert McElvaine, we are treated to a terrific account of the human ordeal of the 1930s, which, as noted historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Notes, "does justice to the social and cultural dimensions of economic crisis as well as to its political and economic impact." Here we take a busman's tour into a world literally turned upside down by the massive and systematic economic dislocations that suddenly arose in the late 1920s. Moreover, this is a quite fair-minded and scrupulously researched effort that imaginatively recreates the amazing social, economic, and political conditions of the Great Depression for the reader in a most entertaining and edifying way. Today it is difficult, especially for younger readers, to understand just how traumatic and dangerous the crisis in democracy that the events surrounding the Great Depression were, not only in this country, but also in all of the constitutional democracies of the west. To the minds of many fair-minded Americans, the capitalist system had failed, and it was the man in the street with his family who bore the cruelest brunt of this failure. Millions were set adrift, and everywhere ordinary human beings were stripped of their possessions, their livelihood, and their dignity as thousands and then millions of businesses and enterprises went bankrupt.

For a time it appeared the government itself would lost the confidence of the people, and that civil order would be sacrificed along with all of the material dispossessions millions had already suffered. Socialism and even communism flourished as alternative answers in academic circles, and no one seemed sure or even confident...
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