Great Depression makes for inspirational reading—September 28, 2007
Unlike my neighbor and my parents who lived through the Depression, I didn't. But some of the personal stories and other books at the library make the period come alive and almost make me feel like I was there, breathing in the dust.
Six families whose lives were forever changed by the depression tell their stories in “The Worst Hard Time” by Timothy Egan. Before I read this book words like “dust bowl” didn’t conjure up any particular devastating image, just a really bad dust storm. Reading about the interminable dust piling up in drifts, much like snow, the cloud of dust that swept across Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas on Palm Sunday, 1935 and the deaths of so many from “dust pneumonia” made me realize not only the severity of that period, but how long it lasted. The tenacity of the people who hung on as their livelihoods and in some cases, their lives, literally, blew away is amazing.
In 1927 Ann Marie Low was a teenager living on a farm in southeastern North Dakota. Her “Dust Bowl Diary” provides a picture of daily life as she, her parents, siblings, friends and other family members labored to survive the endless drought, the winds and harsh winters on the plains of North Dakota.
Donald Worster grew up on the southern plains. In “Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930’s” he chronicles the demise of this massive grassland and how the New Deal failed to come to grips with the causes of the catastrophe.
The Depression was aptly named. The stock market bust and massive unemployment coupled with the worst drought in decades on the Great Plains resulted in poverty and devastation the likes of which people had never experienced. Who was to blame? Investors? The Federal Reserve? The government? The weather? In “The Forgotten Man” Amity Shlaes addresses the causes and effects of the Depression and why it lasted over a decade.
For a summary of opposing viewpoints check out “The Great Depression” by Don Nardo. He presents a chronology of the period and brief chapters expressing the pros and cons.
Unemployment, poverty and hunger permeated the 1930s. Soup kitchens were the salvation of many. Milton Meltzer’s “Brother, Can you Spare a Dime?” tells the story of the millions whose lives were affected.
This was an important period in our history—one we need to learn about and learn from.