Book Review: Hard Times: An Oral History Of The Great Depression by Studs Terkel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

A quick note about typography.  I read “Hard Times” in ebook form.  By the amount of typographical mistakes, it was obvious that minimal effort was put into converting it from book form to ebook form.  It’s as if they simply scanned it and never edited the ebook version for errors.  There were so many mistakes it was actually distracting.  So many misspelled words and 1’s in place of I’s.  Ugh.  I greatly appreciate the effort of The New Press for bringing old books deemed insufficiently profitable back in print, but please put just a little more effort into your ebooks.

The premise of this book is quite simple.  Find a whole bunch of people who lived through the Great Depression or are children of those who lived through the Great Depression and ask them their thoughts on the time.  All walks of life are represented from those hit hardest to those who barely even recognized the Great Depression was even happening.  This method of history keeping is both informative and eye opening.

There is the old expression that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it and boy, howdy are we repeating much of the Great Depression now in the Great Recession.  The same people who were blind to the bread lines of the Great Depression are blind to the necessity of Food Stamps now.  The banks who are robo-signing foreclosure notices illegally taking away people’s houses without due process were doing so during the Great Depression.  And the beat goes on.

What I found most intriguing about reading “Hard Times” was how completely the Great Depression shaped the American identity for generations to come.  Families came out of it determined for their children never to “have not” again.  Our present day overconsumerism can likely be tied to the “never again” attitude that was installed in many individuals as a result of living through the Great Depression.  And who can blame them?

It also should be noted that politics hasn’t changed much since then either.  Much of Roosevelt’s plans for getting the country out of the Great Depression were fought with just as much ferocity by Republicans then as the present day Republicans are fighting now against Obama’s Great Recession agenda.  The only difference is today Republicans are resorting to drastic measures to fight against Obama whereas then Roosevelt resorted to drastic measures to fight against Republicans.

Another surprising similarity between present day and the Great Depression is the amount of people that are simply unwilling to see that things are wrong with society.  A few of the people Studs Terkel interviewed got through the Great Depression without even recognizing that things like bread lines even existed.  How do you do that?  That these same people are the ones that also tend to have a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality is hardly surprising.  Such is the life of those who live with blinders on.

This is one of those books that should be required reading for everyone.  It gives first and second hand accounts of the most economically devastating time in our history.  It is unbiased and straight forward in its presentation.  I sincerely hope someone is working on a similar book for the Great Recession.

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