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Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great…

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970)

by Studs Terkel

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Oral history of the Great Depression. The 'common 'man' interviews are the best, but Terkel interviewed many politicians and government officials as well. Contains the only interview I've ever read with Topekan Alfred Landon, 1936 GOP candidate. The vitriol aimed at Roosevelt by some reminds one that every election is terrible. ( )
  kcshankd | Nov 17, 2016 |
All in all, this was a good book. I enjoyed reading the first hand accounts, and Terkel did a very good job of including all opinions (including some truly disgusting, racist ones). It really gives you a good idea of what the Depression was like. Like Terkel said at the beginning, whether every fact was true or not, or every date remembered correctly hardly matters - it's what these people remember of the time that is the true legacy of the depression.

While I enjoyed it, I also felt that this book was about a hundred pages too long. Things seemed to repeat themselves. There also seemed to be no clear order to the book - the interviews seemed to be basically in a random order.

Nonetheless, it was truly an interesting and educational book. ( )
  sammii507 | Aug 19, 2014 |

A masterfully organized relating of oral anecdotes from Great Depression America. The author collected them all himself and they range from touching to depressing to amusing to astounding. ( )
1 vote qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |

A masterfully organized relating of oral anecdotes from Great Depression America. The author collected them all himself and they range from touching to depressing to amusing to astounding. ( )
  qaphsiel | May 11, 2014 |
A very interesting thing happened about one-third of the way through this book; I suddenly realized it was not a current publication. That is, I was reading this book with the assumption that it was written in the early 2000s. Shame on me for not paying attention. However, that speaks volumes to the timelessness of content. Quite simply, this book published in 1970 reflects thoughts and ideas that are still being expressed today.

This is a collection of interviews with people who lived during the Depression. It is a wide-ranging collection of individuals. It includes the rich, the powerless, the haves, the never-hads, the had-but-lost-its, the individuals untouched by the times, the people who worked to make things better, the people who did what it took to survive, the thieves, the industrialists, the farmers, the whites, the blacks, the Hispanics, the communists, the republicans, the Roosevelt-lovers, the Roosevelt-haters, the cross section of humanity that lived through one of the toughest times our nation ever experienced.

The result is slightly disjointed and uneven. But that is to be expected. These are the actual words of the actual people. (As Studs notes in the introduction [and I apologize, this is not the exact quote – I couldn't find it after only a quick perusal] these are the people's stories. He didn't go back to make sure their information –dates, times, people – were exactly correct. He was letting them tell the story they remembered.) That pendulum swing of ideas and beliefs is both the strength and weakness of the approach. We are used to reading a narrative that presents a certain version of what has occurred. Because of the people involved, there are numerous versions that swing from far right to far left to in between to not even caring where it lands.

And that pendulum swing sometimes left me feeling tired and, once or twice, bored. I wasn't sure I wanted to hear a person's tale. But I would go on and be amazed by the next story.

And, as I have noted before, once I figured out the decade in which this was written, I was suddenly overcome by how little we learn and how we tend to say the same things again and again. Part of the premise of this collection seems to be to show that the nation has not learned – that the mistakes that lead to the Great Depression were in place and could happen again in the 70s. And sure enough, we took another plunge – nothing as big as the Depression, but a plunge nonetheless.

And yet, I read this in 2014 and these people could just have easily been saying that the Great Depression was predecessor for the Great Recession (or whatever name we are currently giving it.) Discussions of the way banks mishandled the money, discussions of people overextending because it can't go anywhere but up, discussions of shoe-shines owning millions in stock (just replace that with million-dollar homes), discussions of the differences in the ways we treat the poor today, discussions of how it is the fault of the poor/fault of the rich/fault of the bankers/fault of the government/fault of my own/fault of anyone but me.

We will repeat history because we do, indeed, fail to learn from it. But we have never plunged as deep as we did in the 30s. Maybe we learned a little bit.

Read these remembrances and learn. And maybe the next time we repeat history, we will continue to make that plunge a little less deep. ( )
3 vote figre | Mar 15, 2014 |
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See, I never heard that word "depression" before. They would all just say hard times to me. It still is.
Roger, a fourteen-year-old Appalachian boy, living in Chicago
A Depression might be interesting today. It could really be something. To be on the bum, and have nobody say: "Look, I'll give you $10,000 if you'd just come back and go to school." We have a choice today. What would it be like if we had no choice?
Tom, 20
This I remember. Some people put this out of their minds and forget it. I don't want to forget it. I don't want it to take the best of me, but I want to be there because it happened. This is the truth, you know. History.
Cesar Chavez
They loved us who had passed away.
They forgot all our errors. Our names were mixed.
The story was long.
The young people danced. They brought down new boughs for the flame. They said, Go on with the story now. What happened next?
For us there was silence...
Genevieve Taggard, 1940
For my wife, my son and my editor
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This is a memory book, rather than one of hard fact and precise statistic.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0394746910, Paperback)

First published in 1970, this classic of oral history features the voices of men and women who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930s. It includes accounts by congressmen C. Wright Patman and Hamilton Fish, as well as failed presidential candidate Alf M. Landon, who recalls what it was like to be governor of Kansas in 1933:
Men with tears in their eyes begged for an appointment that would help save their homes and farms. I couldn't see them all in my office. But I never let one of them leave without my coming out and shakin' hands with 'em. I listened to all their stories, each one of 'em. But it was obvious I couldn't take care of all their terrible needs.
The book includes also the perspectives of ordinary men and women, such as Jim Sheridan, who took part in the 1932 march by World War I veterans to petition for their benefits in Washington, D.C., where they were repelled by army troops led by General Douglas MacArthur. Or Edward Santander, who was a child then: "My first memories come about '31. It was simply a gut issue then: eating or not eating, living or not living." Studs Terkel makes history come alive, drawing out experiences and emotions from his interviewees to the degree few have ever been able to match.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:15 -0400)

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From the Publisher: In this unique re-creation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. The book is a mosaic of memories from those who were richest to those who were most destitute: politicians like James Farley and Raymond Moley; businessmen like Bill Benton and Clement Stone; a six-day bicycle racer; artists and writers; racketeers; speakeasy operators, strikers, and impoverished farmers; people who were just kids; and those who remember losing a fortune. Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information-much of it little known-but also a fascinating interplay of memory and fact, showing how the Depression affected the lives of those who experienced it firsthand, often transforming the most bitter memories into a surprising nostalgia.… (more)

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