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Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (original 1931; edition 2000)

by Frederick Lewis Allen

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7861411,712 (4.12)56
Member:susanbooks
Title:Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s
Authors:Frederick Lewis Allen
Info:Harper Perennial Modern Classics (2000), Edition: 1st Perennial Classics Ed, Paperback, 338 pages
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Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's by Frederick Lewis Allen (1931)

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Written only at the beginning of the Thirties, this is probably the first book concerning the Twenties ever written, and probably one of the closest to the matter at hand.
Maybe this is why I had great expectation about it. This is certainly not the first social history book about the Twenties I've read, but because it was written so close to that period, I was expecting a different take at it.

Well, regarding the subject matter, it's not very different from other books about the Twenties I- and this is probably a merit to the author that was able to capture the most important aspects of a time he did live - but on the other hand, its flavour is maybe a bit amateurish, the analysis of causes and effects are sometimes questionable... in my opinion. This doesn't really sounds like a study of the period, but more like the remembrance of someone who lived it, and was also quite critical about it. The style is very colloquial and judgmental at times, which is, in my opinion, the weakness of the book as well as its strong point. We don't really get an objective treatment of the Twenties, but we do get the feeling of how people lived this period of incredible, sometimes shocking changes.

The author covers the political life of the country in details, although here too we don't really get a scholarly examination of facts and circumstances, but more an `inside view', the version of someone `who was there' and maybe isn't detached enough to really make an analysis of the matter. Some parts sounded even a bit gossipy to me.
A section in devoted to the changes in the lifestyle of people, with particular regard to young people. And honestly I did expected a bit more from here. The social analysis of the huge change in behaviour and feelings of what was acceptable, with special regard to young people and women in particular, seems a little superficial to me. I was also surprised that so little space was dedicated to Prohibition and the jazz, and I wonder whether this depends on the author failing to see their reverberations on the following decades - which of course can't be blame on him, he just wasn't in the historical position for judging it. On the other hand, space is devoted to things that are never covered in other books on the matter, things like the popularity of the game of Mah Jong and the success Freudian ideas had inside that society. Maybe this is because they weren't after all as significant as the author thought, but they do give an additional facet to the decade. Events that marked the time, like the two important trials - the Scopes and the Sacco-Vanzetti - are swiftly dealt with and never entered in an in-depth social analysis - which is quite a shame.
The last part, which includes a few chapters, covers the building up, the explosion and a brief followed up of the Big Crash. Here the author becomes quite technical, so much so that I had a hard time following his analysis.

On the whole, it's a nice book on the Twenties, certainly worth reading. It does give a sense of the decade from a first-hand source. Just don't content yourself with this if you are interested in the Roaring Twenties. ( )
1 vote JazzFeathers | Jul 27, 2016 |
I just reread this after reading this originally in High School. It is a great social history of an important decade in American history ( )
  M_Clark | Apr 26, 2016 |
Interesting history of the 1920's
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
I read this in high school and thought it was really boring, but then I read "Since Yesterday" a few years ago and liked it. Maybe I'll have to go back and read this one sometime if I ever run out of things to read (like that'll ever happen). ( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
I had to read this book for a class I was taking and was absolutely fascinated with Allen's look inside the 1920s. ( )
  VashonJim | Sep 6, 2015 |
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Frederick Lewis Allenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Foster, Guysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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When Frederick Lewis Allen's fascinating social history of America in the 1920's was first published in 1931, the twenties were inded Only Yesterday. (Foreword by Roy R. Neuberger, June 1997)
If time were suddenly to turn back to the earliest days of the Postwar Decade, and you were to look about you, what would seem strange to you? since 1919 the circumstances of American life have been transformed--yes, but exactly how?
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Something spiritual had gone out of the churches--a sense of certainty that theirs was the way to salvation. Religion was furiously discussed [...] yet all this discussion was itself a sign that for millions of people religion had become a debatable subject instead of being accepted without question among the traditions of the community. (Chap. 8 [4])
If church attendance declined, it was perhaps because, as Walter Lippman put it, people were not so certain that they were going to meet God when they went to church. If the minister's prestige declined, it was in many cases because he had lost his one-time conviction that he had a definite and authoritative mission. The Reverend Charles Stelzle, a shrewd observer of religious conditions, spoke bluntly in an article in the World's Work: the church, he said, was declining largely because "those who are identified with it do not actually believe in it." Mr. Stelzle told of asking groups of Protestant ministers what there was in their church programs which would prompt them, if they were outsiders, to say, "That is great; that is worth lining up for," and of receiving in no case an immediate answer which satisfied even the answerer himself. In the congregations, and especially among the younger men and women, there was an undeniable weakening of loyalty to the church and an undeniable vagueness as to what it had to offer them [...]. (Chap. 8 [4])
Of all the sciences it was the youngest and least scientific which most captivated the general public and had the most disintegrating effect upon religious faith. Psychology was king. Freud, Adler, Jung, and Watson has their tens of thousands of votaries; intelligence-testers invaded the schools in quest of I.Q.s; psychiatrists were installed in business houses to hire and fire employees and determine advertising policies; an one had only to read the newspapers to be told with complete assurance that psychology held the key to the problems of waywardness, divorce, and crime. (Chap. 8 [4])
Those who believed in the letter of the Bible and refused to accept any teaching, even of science, which seemed to conflict with it, bean in 1921 to call themselves Fundamentalists. The Modernists (or Liberals), on the othe hand, tried to reconcile their beliefs with scientific thought: to throw overboard what was out of date, to retain what was essential and intellectually respectable, and generally to mediate between Christianity and the skeptical spirit of the age. (Chap. 8 [4])
The Modernists had the Zeitgeist on their side, but they were not united. Their interpretations of God -- as the first cause, as absolute energy, as idealized reality, as a righteous will working in creation, as the ideal and goal toward which all that is highest and best is moving -- were confusingly various and ambiguous. Some of these interpretations offered little to satisfy the worshiper; one New England clergyman said that when he thought of God he thought of "a sort of oblong blur." And the Modernists threw overboard so many doctrines in which the bulk of American Protestants had grown up believing (such as the Virgin birth, the resurrection of the body, and the Atonement) that they seemed to many to have no religious cargo left except a nebulous faith, a general benevolence, and a disposition to assure everyone that he was really as just as religion as they. Gone for them, as Walter Lippman said, was "that deep, compulsive, organic faith in an external fact which is the essence of religion for all but that very small minority who can live within themselves in mystical communion or by the power of their understanding." (Chap. 8 [4])
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060956658, Paperback)

Prohibition. Al Capone. The President Harding scandals. The revolution of manners and morals. Black Tuesday. These are only an inkling of the events and figures characterizing the wild, tumultuous era that was the Roaring Twenties. Originally published in 1931, Only Yesterday traces the rise if post-World War I prosperity up to the Wall Street crash of 1929 against the colorful backdrop of flappers, speakeasies, the first radio, and the scandalous rise of skirt hemlines. Hailed as an instant classic, this is Frederick Lewis Allen's vivid and definitive account of one of the twentieth century's most fascinating decades, chronicling a time of both joy and terror--when dizzying highs were quickly succeeded by heartbreaking lows.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:58 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

History of the 1920's from the collapse of Wilson and the New Freedom to the collapse of Wall Street and the New Era.

(summary from another edition)

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