Morris (Comeback: America’s New Economic Boom, 2013, etc.) revisits history’s greatest economic meltdown.
The phenomenon of the Great Depression is too vast and complex for a single book to capture entirely. Where to begin? How about with Morris, if only because he does such an efficient job laying the groundwork for an understanding of the economic disaster. Clearly familiar with the library of “Depression studies,” the author, a lawyer and former banker, makes good use of the historians and economists who’ve gone before. He begins by tracing the roots of the Depression to World War I, the devastation that accounted for the desperate efforts of the United States, Britain, France, and Germany to fashion a new, acceptable order in the wake of massive loss. Focusing on the U.S. but keeping an eye on the European scene, Morris writes smoothly and moves at a breakneck pace, packing the narrative with quick profiles of auto titans, utilities giants, and international businessmen and entrepreneurs and drilling down on the economic maneuverings by political figures like Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. To bolster his economic arguments, Morris enlists the likes of Galbraith, Keynes, Eichengreen, and others. He’s especially good assessing the transformative effects of the new automobile and AC electric industries on American life, examining the poison pill that was the Treaty of Versailles, highlighting the attacks on the New Deal, and mapping the changes wrought by mass communications and the development of “America’s unique consumer-oriented economy.” Readers will prize the author’s discussion of Britain’s resumption of the gold standard, his stout defense of William Jennings Bryan, and his dismissal of the “banking crisis” as little more than a minor contributor to the Depression. Also likely to raise some eyebrows: the author’s insistence that the Depression was well over before World War II began and that, notwithstanding the New Deal’s ups and downs, Roosevelt himself helped make recovery possible.
Both neophytes and experts will find something provocative and rewarding in this unfailingly interesting treatment.