How One Man's Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression
Email this review


Former investigative reporter Gup (Journalism/Emerson Coll.; Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life, 2007, etc.) unravels the knotty but fascinating story of an anonymous act of benevolence performed in an Ohio town imploding under the pressure of the Great Depression.

In 2008, the author received an unlikely treasure from his elderly mother: an old suitcase that once belonged to his grandfather. Inside, Gup discovered a cache of letters and cancelled checks, all involving a man named B. Virdot, who, during Christmas 1933, placed a notice in the Canton Repository announcing that he would present 75 families with $10 each—a considerable sum in 1930s America—if they explained their need. So many applied that Virdot altered the amount to $5 and helped 150 families. Gup quickly realized that his own grandfather was B. Virdot—a name fashioned from the names of his daughters. During the next couple years, the author sought every remaining thread of this compelling tale. He visited surviving family members, found the lone surviving letter writer, visited libraries and cemeteries and historical societies, interviewed more than 500 people, scoured the Internet and pursued another story—that of his grandfather. Known as “Sam Stone,” owner of a clothing store in Canton, he was actually a Romanian Jewish immigrant named Sam Finkelstein who lied for decades about his biography. Gup artfully weaves together the stories of the recipients (and their descendants) and the story of his grandfather, gradually revealing as much as he was able to discover about him. At age 93, Stone died in Florida in a freak car accident on a drawbridge and took to the grave the story of “B. Virdot.” Only occasionally does the author veer into the maudlin and predictable.

Wrenching stories of suffering, loss, endurance, humility and gratitude.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59420-270-4
Page count: 360pp
Publisher: Penguin Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2010