The depression's rueful plaint is affixed to a graphic, sometimes scorching documentary history of "how it started and why, and what it felt like." The narrative begins in the easy-going '20's (not so easy for farmers or the persistently unemployed), picking up its first eye-witness account in ominous October 1929: Gordon Parks losing his parttime job and leaving school. The crisis mounts: in one-industry towns the long-idle busy themselves with aimless activity (Waltham, Mass.) or tramp fruitlessly from plant to plant (Detroit); women without jobs are virtually without help; bankrupt schools shut down or shorten their terms, and children work in violation of the law (or take to the road); blacks are replaced by whites, often forcibly; professionals are "worth more dead than alive" (except for literary types who take to the simple life). Mr. Meltzer points out that initially fewer than 200,000 were covered by unemployment insurance and emphasizes both the lag in providing relief and the demeaning way ti was handled; he observes also that the depression "hardly nicked the old money." Reports on shelters and shantytowns, on farm activism and union apathy, lead into a cursory discussion of why protest remained peaceful, of why social consciousness rather than socialism was the outcome. Roosevelt's inauguration and quick action end the book but not, the author notes, the depression itself. As viewed by the victims and by writers as diverse as Anna Arnold Hedgeman and Edmund Wilson (and counterpinted by bland quotes from the mass media), the depression hits home, and hurts.