America in an Age of Crisis, 1929-1939
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Timing this retrospective meditation for the 70th anniversary of the 1929 stock market crash, critically acclaimed historian Watkins (Montana State Univ.; The Great Depression, 1993, etc.) takes a long, painstaking look at the 20th century’s transformative economic event. The Depression changed America forever, Watkins makes clear: from the sunny, business-of-America-is-business prosperity engine of the 1920s, the nation suddenly transmogrified into a land of hoboes, itinerant industrial and farm laborers, and polarized masses of workers and industrialists. The nation, caught up in malign economic forces beyond the grasp of market theoreticians, seemed to many to be on the brink of revolution. In retrospect, the US was apparently spared this fate by some adventitious events, especially by the election of Franklin Roosevelt and the uplifting psychological effect of the sometimes absurd but often inspired policies of his New Deal. While not neglecting the lasting impact of the New Deal, Watkins’s focus here is on portraying the experience of ordinary Americans during the Depression. After sketching the crisis from the 1929 crash through the eve of the New Deal in chronological fashion, Watkins takes an anecdotal approach in depicting the explosive brew of radicalism, hope, despair, and class war that ignited violence in both rural and urban areas. Watkins details the solutions Americans turned to with both despair and optimism: the New Deal on the one hand, which focused on putting America back to work and reigniting hope through welfare and relief, and the nascent labor movement, infused as it was with radical and communist elements. Watkins also narrates the incredible suffering of migrant workers, Okies, and sharecroppers in the hell that had become rural America. Watkins ends with a look forward from 1939, as the nation limped into economic recovery and slowly came to grips with inequalities at home and a crisis abroad that would finally transform America. A superb telling of one of modern US history’s most painful chapters.

Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-1675-9
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


NonfictionTHE MAN WHO WALKED BACKWARD by Ben Montgomery
by Ben Montgomery