The Great Depression

Eighty-nine years after the US stock market crash, our Review of the Week highlights an illuminating Depression-era diary

The Great Depression : a diary

Roth, Benjamin. ed. by James Ledbetter and Daniel B. Roth PublicAffairs, 2009
254p, 9781586487997 $24.95

Nearly two years after the stock market crash of 1929, Youngstown, Ohio, attorney Benjamin Roth realized that economic prosperity would not return quickly, and so he began a diary to record his thoughts on the events of the Great Depression until recovery returned. From his middle-class perspective in a once booming steel community, he struggled to understand the crisis. His terse entries provide a clear perspective on the pervasive business collapse, the banking crisis, fluctuations in stock market prices, hopeful optimism of prosperity, and the Roosevelt administration’s struggling efforts to resolve the problems. Even though he supported Hoover and laissez-faire doctrine, ironically, Roth gave a series of speeches championing the National Recovery Administration. He frequently commented on inflation fears and the economic impact on his law firm and “professionals,” and he grew cynical of big government. The diary offers some examples of individuals who lost everything, and Roth provides advice about informed investing, the viability of bonds, and his desire to purchase stocks, but he, like others, had no money. The editors provide appropriate historical context when necessary, allowing Roth’s words to prevail. Students of the Great Depression will find this work an excellent source. A very good book.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries.
Reviewer: R. M. Hyser, James Madison University
Subject: Social & Behavioral Sciences – History, Geography & Area Studies – North America
Choice Issue: Aug 2010