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A once-over-lightly canvass that represents a far-from-rigorous inquiry into the deeply troubled decade which ended with the onset of WW II. In 10 loosely linked essays, Garraty surveys the socioeconomic upheaval that followed in the wake of Wall Street's 1929 crash. He focuses on four industrialized nations--France, Germany, the UK, and the US--with occasional references to Austria, Brazil, Egypt, Italy, Japan, Soviet Russia, et al. The author's sketchy overview, which relies mainly on the writing of others, covers the causes of and initial reactions to the global collapse; it also examines the Great Depression's impact on agriculture, industry, and workers, finishing with quirky audits of recovery measures taken by the Nazis, New Dealers, France's timid socialists, and the enervated reformers of Great Britain. In England, Garraty recounts, prolonged adversity produced perscriptive responses as varied as those of John Maynard Keynes (moderate inflation) and Sir Oswald Mosley (fascism). There's an occasional nugget here, e.g., the intelligence that Americans' health, as measured by longevity, actually improved during the decline, while balanced budgets (despite mounting evidence the slump was something more than a cyclical phenomenon) remained an article of faith with virtually all Western regimes--and their citizenry for whom radicalism held few charms. But Garraty draws no very startling or revelatory conclusions from the primary and secondary sources he employs. Left to his own devices, the author frequently verges on fatuity, e.g., ""Those who knew most [about the Great Depression] were often so baffled by the complexities and contradictions of what they were studying that they threw up their hands in despair. ""Nor does Garraty shy from the shallow judgment: ""What can be made from the sad history of labor organizations during the Great Depression? Probably no more than the truism that hard times are tough on unions, indeed on nearly all working people."" At times, the author even appears unsure of the authorities he cites. To illustrate, in borrowing a quote from James McGregor Burns, he qualifies him as ""a political scientist who should know about such things. ""In brief, then, a text that is essentially passionless, lamentably simplistic, and--owing to the meager return on the investment of time required to get through it--depressing.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1986
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich