A discerning, information-packed, and emotionally charged survey of America's crucible; by the author of the National Book Award-nominated Righteous Pilgrim (1990). As might be expected from a companion volume to an upcoming PBS series, the text is episodic and copiously illustrated. By themselves, the more than one hundred photographs and their long, illuminating captions do a fine job of conveying America's dark night. Many are the products of documentary and propaganda efforts by the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration--New Deal agencies that understood the power of the photograph to shape public opinion. Moving images of Hoovervilles, of the emaciated faces of migrant laborers and their families, and of the bloody conflicts of the union movement, Watkins explains, saturated the public consciousness and helped forge support for the New Deal. Reflecting these photographs by focusing on the human drama of the times, the author traces the era from the financial euphoria that led to the crash of 1929, and shows how the prevailing ethic of the upper classes--who were morally offended at the idea of ``handouts''--tied Hoover's hands long enough for FDR to be swept into office. But even with the ``alphabet soup'' of agencies created by Roosevelt's ``brain trust''--his first hundred days saw more legislation enacted than in any other period in our history--a rebound was a long time coming. Finally, Watkins makes clear, the struggle for economic relief--a struggle that included phenomena like the Bonus Army's march on Washington, the rising popularity of the Communist Party, and the fear of incipient class warfare--resulted in a new conception of government: government that would be a large and constant presence in American lives, promising a degree of security. Heartfelt and wide-ranging, and timely as well, as we continue to grapple with the nurturing sort of government put in place by FDR.