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The Big Change: America Transforms Itself…
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The Big Change: America Transforms Itself 1900-1950

by Frederick Lewis Allen

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In the early thirties Allen wrote Only Yesterday, about America in the twenties, fascinating because it described the causes and effects of 1929 crash just after it had happened. Since Yesterday, Allen's history of the thirties, is just as interesting. The Big Change also starts off well, with a compassionate description of the lives of the citizens of the early 1900s. The poor lived in cramped, insanitary conditions, close to starvation. Life expectancies were less than fifty years.

Allen's thesis is that mass production brought prosperity, education and democracy to the working classes, dragging them out of poverty. This is, he says "THE American story of the first half of the twentieth century." The statistics Allen presents certainly seem to support the claim that Americans in the fifties were far better off than they had ever been before.

Th problem is that Allen is too concenrned with countering the criticisms of unnamed "European" critics. When the critics claim, for example, that the majority of African-Americans (negroes in this book) still live in poverty, in fear of lynchings, Allen counters that lynchings are fewer, and the people on the bottom of the economic heap are better off then they were in 1910. The Europeans just do not understand American society. This boosterism reduces the credibility of the book, which is unfortunate because the first two thirds are well worth reading. The ending is oddly abrupt, as though Allen suddenly ran out of time.

The Big Change is available free on Project Gutenberg Australia, as are the previous two books. ( )
  pamelad | Mar 12, 2012 |
I read this because I so appreciated the author's Only Yesterday back when I read it in 1946 as a senior in high school. This is a different type of retrospective look back (in 1952) at the USA in the first half of the 20th century. It has interest in that it shows how an intelligent spectator (he was editor of Harper's from 1941 till nearly the time when he died in 1954) saw the country--somewhat more hopefully than some of the observors of the time, and before the space age, Vietnam, the computer, and Brown v. Board of Education. ( )
  Schmerguls | May 13, 2008 |
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