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Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression

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In this unique recreation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. Featuring a mosaic of memories from politicians, businessmen, artists, and writers, from those who were just kids to those who remember losing a fortune, Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information In this unique recreation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. Featuring a mosaic of memories from politicians, businessmen, artists, and writers, from those who were just kids to those who remember losing a fortune, Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information but a fascinating interplay of memory and fact, revealing how the Depression affected the lives of those who experienced it firsthand.


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In this unique recreation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. Featuring a mosaic of memories from politicians, businessmen, artists, and writers, from those who were just kids to those who remember losing a fortune, Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information In this unique recreation of one of the most dramatic periods in modern American history, Studs Terkel recaptures the Great Depression of the 1930s in all its complexity. Featuring a mosaic of memories from politicians, businessmen, artists, and writers, from those who were just kids to those who remember losing a fortune, Hard Times is not only a gold mine of information but a fascinating interplay of memory and fact, revealing how the Depression affected the lives of those who experienced it firsthand.

30 review for Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    Helen pulled off the side of the road whenever she saw a bag that had been thrown out some car window, especially if it looked like it contained clothing. If it did, she would rip off the zippers and the buttons and save them for a time when she needed to sew a button or a zipper on clothing for herself or her four sons. It was the early 1960s, and she had been through the Great Depression. She was my first mother-in-law and we lived with her briefly as she tried to feed her us all, even her mot Helen pulled off the side of the road whenever she saw a bag that had been thrown out some car window, especially if it looked like it contained clothing. If it did, she would rip off the zippers and the buttons and save them for a time when she needed to sew a button or a zipper on clothing for herself or her four sons. It was the early 1960s, and she had been through the Great Depression. She was my first mother-in-law and we lived with her briefly as she tried to feed her us all, even her mother, on what little welfare money she had coming in each month. Sometimes hard times just produces more hard times. Stud Terkel wrote the history of the Great Depression though the eyes of those living it. He went around the country interviewing people. Their stories are hard to read, and when Studs Terkel writes about those who lived high on the hog, it infuriates me. Obviously, we are not all in this together, as the saying goes. At one point in this book I realized that this was a dog eat dog world, a clique that I have not heard of in years or even thought of, but one that came to mind when I read about the insurance salesman that would go door to door trying to sell insurance to people who were desperately poor, not even considering that they couldn't afford it or even caring. Why? Because he also needed work. As a salesman he was trained to make the deal: "Now you come up to me. You're gonna sell me. I'm really worried, I say to you: 'I'd love to buy your insurance, but I'm so frantic, I just can't--" The response is so simple: 'That's exactly why you need it.' I'd close in on you." People were thrown out of their homes with their furniture left outside on the streets. In some places, neighbors would come and help by taking the furniture right back into the houses. Cars were abandoned on the streets, businesses closed their doors, lines of people shuffled as they slowly made their way to the beginning of the bread lines, a thousand men would fight like a pack of wolves to be able to get one of the 3 jobs that was being offered them on the waterfront, rat poison was often added to trash cans to keep the desperately poor out of them, vagrants were arrested, and some of the wealthy, after losing money, were throwing themselves out of windows, or shooting their families and then hemselves, and on top of all of this, preachers were blaming the poor for their condition. Sin, they said? John Steinbeck wrote a book about it, "The Grapes of Wrath," and others wrote songs: These books and songs were considered by the Republicans to be anti-capitalist: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931) They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob, When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job. They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead, Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread? Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time. Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime? Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime; Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime? Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell, Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum, Half a million boots went slogging through Hell, And I was the kid with the drum! Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time. Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime? Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell, Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum, Half a million boots went slogging through Hell, And I was the kid with the drum! Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time. Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?" "Millions experienced a private kind of shame when the pink slip came. No matter that others suffered the same fate, the inner voice whispered, 'I'm a failure.'" Some just wrote those songs and made money. One man said, "Have you ever seen a child with rickets? Shaking as with palsy. No proteins, no milk. And the companies pouring milk into gutters. People with nothing to wear, and they were plowing up cotton. People with nothing to eat, and they killed the pigs? If that wasn't the craziest system in the world...and people blamed themselves, not the system." In mid-1950s where I grew up, I used to go down to the river, and one day I came upon a hobo camp. No one was around, but I saw a large pot of stew sitting over a cold fire just waiting for them to return. I quickly left. In earlier times, when I was 7 years old and lived in Porterville, CA in our empty hotel building, I used to go through the garbage cans in the alley just for the fun of it. I found a bag of stale cookies one time that a store had thrown out. I put them on a little crate in that alley because I had the idea of selling them to a hobo the next day since they often walked through the alley. The next morning they were gone. I remember making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a hobo that had knocked on our door. They are gone but not forgotten. In the depression they burned fields of oranges, and when one man tried to take one before it caught on fire, and he was shot to death. Rotten bananas set on the docks in New Orleans. It is now 2016. I frequent a grocery store where farmer's can get the throw-away food for their animals, and this for free if they sign a card saying that they are a farmer. I once saw two large cases of wonderful tomatoes, that just didn't sell and asked why they were not giving it to the poor. The reason: It could make them sick. No, it wouldn't, but I just quietly walked away and thought about it. I came back a minute later because I am on that farmer's list since I feed my feral groundhogs in the summertime with just a few pieces of fruit of vegetables that I find there. But when I asked for the tomatoes, I was told that one of the workers just took them out to the garbage bins. They were afraid that I would get them and give them away, which I would have. They didn't even wait for a farmer to come in later that day. That was one of the few times that the food thrown away was perfectly good. Everyone must have been growing their own tomatoes that year. I also know of a farmer that gets the throw away farmer's food at that store and takes it home and cans it for themselves. What nutritional value does it have when they throw it out because it is limp? Not much. We have not progressed much in our society when people are not taken care of properly, when some people where I live even go to the Farmer's Co-Op to buy animal products for their family because it is cheaper--the grains, the molasses? Helen used to cook for all of us. She had left her husband and didn't want to be found, so it was all up to her and her welfare check. One day her son came into the house and said, "What are we having for dinner? Beans and potatoes again?" "No," said his mother Helen, "Today, we are having potatoes and beans." I remember laughing at that. I also remember canned milk warmed up with water and cocoa and some sugar to make it palpable because their well water had so much iron in it. And I remember those stewed tomatoes with dried breads cubes and sugar. Another depression song: I'm just like Job's turkey, I can't do nothing by gobble, I'm so poor, baby, I have to lean against the fence to gabble. Yeah, now, baby, I believe I'll change town, Lord, I'm so low down, baby, I declare I'd looking up at down. The men in the mine, baby, They all looking down at me... ~~Big Bill Broonzy "Autopsies have been confirmed that many miners die of heart failure when coal dust clamps the small arteries in their lungs in a stiff unyielding cast which eventually puts a critical load on their hearts." Al Capone set up soup kitchens, so he wasn't all bad. William Randolph Hearst gave truckloads of food away, so he wasn't all that bad either and maybe never was. Just wondering: Is this why the SLA, in the 70s in Berkeley, kidnapped Patty Hearst and asked her father to deliver truckloads of food to people? I was there, but I won't digress. "Can you imagine women and children riding boxcars? The conductor wanted to find out how many guys were in the yards, so he would know how many empty boxcars to put onto the train. Of course, the railroad companies didn't know this." They were going other places looking for work that probably wasn't there. Some people cared for others; some didn't. It often depended on the amount of greed a person had or maybe just the lack of compassion. Hoover set up camps for the homeless. During the recent crash in 2008, I saw photos of other camps. Hoover's was called Hooverville. One man during the depression had this to say: "I saw Hoovervilles--out the train windows. It was appalling to look at, even through train windows. But it didn't touch me." This was the lack of compassion that I am talking about, but even more so, the lack of action. An action that at least some wealthy people took. And this same man goes on: "It was a magnificent time for me. There was certainly not lack of girls. (Laughs.) I'm awful glad I was young at that time." Helen used to have only $35 a week to feed us all. I would go the market with her. I remember hot dogs. That is all I remember. But she must have also bought those beans, stewed tomatoes, potatoes and day old bread. She knew how to shop to make ends meet. And when we moved out and my husband at the time was working she wouldn't accept money from us because the welfare office might find out. You couldn't even give her food. She was that honest. I also remember her nursing her last baby until he was five years old. Some say that Roosevelt ended the depression because of all the programs that he created; some say that the war ended it. For Helen it ended a different way. She moved back to Arkansas just as I was divorcing her son. I learned that her ex-husband had found her there, thanks to the welfare office, and they made him pay her all of the back pay. She then went to nursing school and graduated with high honors. A few years after becoming a nurse she died of cancer. When I see a photo that Dorothea Lange took during the depression, it always reminds me of Helen. It is the hair style, the wrinkles, her being old before her time, but maybe it was because I was so young that she looked so old, but I knew that having worked in the fields most of her life had aged her. This is the photo that reminds me of her: And this is all I have to remember her by, these few harsh realities. I never faced hunger, just bad food. I consider myself fortunate. Many aren't.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mark Hartzer

    I've been meaning to read this for many years. It was written in 1970, but still seems fresh and relevant. It is said that human memory only lasts about 1 generation, or 80 years. After that, subsequent generations must relearn what has been forgotten. It is now a little more than 80 years since the inception of the Great Depression, and it appears we're destined to make many of the same mistakes that were made way back then. Anyway, the overall theme of virtually every one of the people Terkel i I've been meaning to read this for many years. It was written in 1970, but still seems fresh and relevant. It is said that human memory only lasts about 1 generation, or 80 years. After that, subsequent generations must relearn what has been forgotten. It is now a little more than 80 years since the inception of the Great Depression, and it appears we're destined to make many of the same mistakes that were made way back then. Anyway, the overall theme of virtually every one of the people Terkel interviewed is that they have been scarred. While a few people like Clement Stone look back fondly, most people would never ever want to go through another one. I think many of the hoarding issues you see with older folks are a direct result of the poverty inflicted during the Great Depression. My own folks were children growing up then, and they still look back at the 'dirty 30s' in horror. Very powerful book. The various people all vividly remember those days. The book does a compelling job of telling what actually happened back then rather than something that has been filtered by historian. In other words, 'primary source' history. Highly recommended, and kind of scary.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This is a great collection of reminiscences from those who lived through the Depression. What was striking to me was the variety of experience - I know it should be obvious, but I kind of thought that EVERYONE was dirt poor and riding the rails, and of course that's not true. The Depression affected everyone, but in different ways - and that really comes through here. I would say this is an absolute must-read for anyone studying or curious about the Depression.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dorothea

    Reading this book was like reading a very great novel: the sort of novel that is long and complicated in structure, weaving many stories together into the same story, bringing many characters together in such a way that the reader becomes invested in all of their lives and senses that not only are these characters part of the story, but everyone around them depends on its outcome. And the meaning of the story will change the reader's life too. If really good oral history were more common, it migh Reading this book was like reading a very great novel: the sort of novel that is long and complicated in structure, weaving many stories together into the same story, bringing many characters together in such a way that the reader becomes invested in all of their lives and senses that not only are these characters part of the story, but everyone around them depends on its outcome. And the meaning of the story will change the reader's life too. If really good oral history were more common, it might be better to say of a great novel that it reminds one of great oral history. Because great novels capture real human emotions and reactions at some momentous time -- oral histories do the same, with the emotions and reactions filtered only through memory, not a writer's imagination, and therefore are even closer to truth. At one point I would have been skeptical that "ordinary" people, interviewed about their own lives, could utter anything as profound, moving, or even truthful than the inventions of the greatest creative writers. I know better now. As the authors of another wonderful book based on oral histories (Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World) said, "We had learned from experience to trust the interpretive authority of ordinary people." Of course, Studs Terkel is the element that transforms this book from a very powerful collection of primary sources into a work of history of literary quality. First of course, he is the one who found the people to interview (those who in the Depression who had been everyone from the struggling poor, to mob members, to government officials and social workers, to rich people who remember the New Deals with hostility), and who--obviously with consummate skill--persuaded them to speak. And then he cut and arranged his material, not as a straightforward narrative, or a chronological history of the Depression, or as a series of arguments, but as chapters of contrasting voices with common identifiable themes. The chapters themselves--I will need to re-read the book someday to understand how he ordered them, but after the first reading I have only the silly mystical idea that he couldn't have arranged them any other way. In any other book I would have wanted a lot of information about how the author chose interviewees, conducted interviews, and compiled the material, so that I could evaluate it for bias. Terkel doesn't do this at all in Hard Times. He refers to the questions of what the book is for and how to evaluate its truthfulness in about two paragraphs at the very beginning. His own words are limited to this introduction (which mostly gives some of his own memories of the Depression) and a few italicized, conversational interview questions. Even the footnotes sometimes required to explain a detail are written as much as possible in the interviewee's own words. Once I got into it, I didn't want Terkel to have explained himself. I figure I can read about his method in his autobiography (P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening). But in Hard Times, Terkel can just sit back and let the people tell their own stories, and that's exactly how it ought to be.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Bob Schnell

    Studs Terkel's "Hard Times" is one of those great reminders that no matter how much progress is made in America things never really change. It is a collection of interviews in the late 1960's with people of all ages and classes about what they remember or have been told about the Great Depression. The results are like asking people today about the 1980's, certain things stick out because they affected you directly but everything else is a bit fuzzy. It all depends on where you were before the cr Studs Terkel's "Hard Times" is one of those great reminders that no matter how much progress is made in America things never really change. It is a collection of interviews in the late 1960's with people of all ages and classes about what they remember or have been told about the Great Depression. The results are like asking people today about the 1980's, certain things stick out because they affected you directly but everything else is a bit fuzzy. It all depends on where you were before the crash. People who were already broke barely noticed, middle class people who speculated on the stock market got hit the hardest and the rich just kept on getting richer. Sound familiar? The stories leap off the page in the teller's voices. Terkel does little editing and does not insert himself too often, only to nudge the speaker along. It is fascinating reading about a time that has been mythologized almost beyond historical reality.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Eric Cartier

    An extraordinary, varied, moving constellation of voices and stories. Hard Times was on my radar when I lived in Chicago years ago (before I had Goodreads), and I have my friend John in Texas to thank for telling me it was the perfect book to read right now, as unemployment rapidly escalates and the future seems uncertain in the United States. He said it's "excellent to be reminded that if they survived, we can." I reflected a lot on my grandparents, family lore my parents shared with me and my An extraordinary, varied, moving constellation of voices and stories. Hard Times was on my radar when I lived in Chicago years ago (before I had Goodreads), and I have my friend John in Texas to thank for telling me it was the perfect book to read right now, as unemployment rapidly escalates and the future seems uncertain in the United States. He said it's "excellent to be reminded that if they survived, we can." I reflected a lot on my grandparents, family lore my parents shared with me and my brother, and through them all the ways in which the Great Depression formed aspects of my personality and behavior. It's a powerful national portrait, which I highly recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Marti

    The amazing thing about this book is the impression I get that we are, in fact, living these times all over again. For instance, the notion that the "1 Percent" controlled 80% of the wealth was invoked by Huey Long. The only difference was that mainstream politicians like Roosevelt were genuinely fearful of a revolution. Therefore, the WPA was enacted almost overnight. Terkel includes every conceivable type of character for this survey (about 70% of whom resided in the Chicago area) including gan The amazing thing about this book is the impression I get that we are, in fact, living these times all over again. For instance, the notion that the "1 Percent" controlled 80% of the wealth was invoked by Huey Long. The only difference was that mainstream politicians like Roosevelt were genuinely fearful of a revolution. Therefore, the WPA was enacted almost overnight. Terkel includes every conceivable type of character for this survey (about 70% of whom resided in the Chicago area) including gangsters, artists, newspapermen, show girls, bankers, union organizers, congressmen, sharecroppers and others who rode boxcars in search of work (capturing their unique slang and way with words). He also included a few who were not affected or who actually made huge fortunes as a result of bad times. The level of commitment and organization of the ordinary citizen - in organizing strikes and protests -- is truly remarkable considering there were no hand-held mass communication devices available (there wasn't even electricity in many rural areas). There's no doubt many were on the brink of starvation. However, a genuine sense of camaraderie was evident then that absolutely does not exist today. Granted, these interviews were conducted in the late 1960s when almost everyone was living more comfortably. Those who were in their 20's at the time were more likely to recall it as a grand adventure. Yet, this adds another interesting aspect in that the teen-age (and slightly older) children of these same subjects knew almost nothing other than "it was a bad time, my old man doesn't like to talk about it." One of the few college-age students who did possess a sophisticated understanding -- the son of a prominent self-made business leader -- became a spokesman for the Weathermen (and is probably now one of the 1%). It is pretty clear why the generation gap in the 1960s was so extreme.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Anita Pomerantz

    In this book, Terkel relays oral histories of people who were exposed to the Depression including farmers, politicians, industrialists, African Americans, artists. You name it, it's in there. It is history through the eyes of the common and not-so-common man. It strikes me that a book like this would be highly unlikely to be published today - - in the days where YouTube and blogging provide thousands of first person accounts of the world around us. Available in seconds. I thought that this book wo In this book, Terkel relays oral histories of people who were exposed to the Depression including farmers, politicians, industrialists, African Americans, artists. You name it, it's in there. It is history through the eyes of the common and not-so-common man. It strikes me that a book like this would be highly unlikely to be published today - - in the days where YouTube and blogging provide thousands of first person accounts of the world around us. Available in seconds. I thought that this book would be truly fascinating, but because I didn't really know enough (or recollect enough history classes) about the Depression, I found myself constantly distracted by the many acronyms for government programs. Some of the folks really told about what life was like in and interesting way, but others reminded me of old, boring people who just were telling dull, tangential stories. All in all, I think if the author had prefaced his chapter with some analysis of the group of people he was talking to and some historical facts, I would have loved the book. But the standalone oral histories didn't quite do it for me. Nonetheless, I would read more Terkel, but if I selected one of his books that focused on a historical event, I'd read a background book first on the event so I was a little more educated before delving into the histories.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve Fox

    This book, from 1970, is a fantastic glimpse into the real lives of people who both lived through the Great Depression and whose who were indirectly affected by it. It is the direct memories of real people, from the poorest to some of the most wealthy. From seemingly insignificant people to some who worked closely with our country’s top leaders. The real, raw stories about life during the late 1920s and through the 1930s are heartbreaking and at the same time amazingly encouraging tales of the h This book, from 1970, is a fantastic glimpse into the real lives of people who both lived through the Great Depression and whose who were indirectly affected by it. It is the direct memories of real people, from the poorest to some of the most wealthy. From seemingly insignificant people to some who worked closely with our country’s top leaders. The real, raw stories about life during the late 1920s and through the 1930s are heartbreaking and at the same time amazingly encouraging tales of the human spirit. I am a better U.S. citizen for having read this compilation by Studs Terkel.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    This was such an amazing book. I'd never read a written documentary before, but after having read this book I would have gladly read more. This was one of my assigned books for summer homework for my Junior AP English class, and definitely the best one I had to read. It's gritty and *real.* Considering today's economic and political climate, it should probably be a required read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nofar Spalter

    A must read, especially in the wake of the Great Recession and the right wing turn the world has taken. Published in 1970 about people living through the 30s, the relevancy of this book is shocking. It's also wonderful to hear so many diverse voices speak out about their experiences at the time. Terkel's work as an oral historian and curate could not be bettered.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This book should be required reading for everyone over the age of 25.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nic

    At 462 pages, Hard Times is a comprehensive undertaking, offering a 360-view of the Great Depression and the people who suffered, prospered and otherwise lived through it. Studs Terkel sets the gold standard for oral history. The book is just the "best of" interviews with a huge swath of people with memories of this time period, organized by chapters about farm life, city life, wall street, politicians, miners, labor organizers, preachers, radicals, factory workers, students, sales men, housewiv At 462 pages, Hard Times is a comprehensive undertaking, offering a 360-view of the Great Depression and the people who suffered, prospered and otherwise lived through it. Studs Terkel sets the gold standard for oral history. The book is just the "best of" interviews with a huge swath of people with memories of this time period, organized by chapters about farm life, city life, wall street, politicians, miners, labor organizers, preachers, radicals, factory workers, students, sales men, housewives, professors, celebrities - you name it! The weakness of the work is it intentionally offers no history beyond personal recollection, and interviewees often use terms unfamiliar to contemporary readers. For instance, in this book NRA stands for National Recovery Act, not the rifle association. People also often refer to well-known men of the time, like Father Coughlin, whose work isn't addressed until later in the book. The strengths of the book are how adeptly Terkel captures the way people speak - accents, word choices, attitudes, prejudices are all captured - and that he includes such a vast array of people, from Pauline Kael to Cesar Chavez, to members of the Hoover and Rosevelt administrations and their opposition. Descriptions of how policy makers, ministers and ordinary people (and even gangsters!) rose to the challenge of saving the nation are inspiring. But as America accelerates its wealth disparity, it serves as a chilling reminder of how bad things can get when masses of people cannot earn a living, and warns that the next generation will have quite a different mindset when hard times come.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Reading a history of the Great Depression is educational. Reading an oral history of the same period puts a human face on a trying time in American history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    The literary equivalent of a great big Frederick Wiseman documentary. At first viewing, it appears that Wiseman, to quite Jamie S. Rich, clearly has never met a reel of footage he didn’t love. At first glance, the same seems true of Terkel and his interviews, but the further you go the clearer it becomes how much care was put into the selection and order of presentation of these people’s stories. The cumulative impact once you reach the end is tremendous.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    Simultaneously an enjoyable read and a long slog.... the small font didn't help my presbyopia... and the collage-like nature fought my latent desire for the comprehensive review... yet the fragmentary interview style gave the work a unique ground's eye perspective on history... of which there were many... both from people who were there... rich, poor, and between... and those who came later and only learned of the Depression from their parents or the media... and with some famous names like Myrn Simultaneously an enjoyable read and a long slog.... the small font didn't help my presbyopia... and the collage-like nature fought my latent desire for the comprehensive review... yet the fragmentary interview style gave the work a unique ground's eye perspective on history... of which there were many... both from people who were there... rich, poor, and between... and those who came later and only learned of the Depression from their parents or the media... and with some famous names like Myrna Loy, Alf Landon, Saul Alinsky, "Country" Joe McDonald, and Pauline Kael... many bureaucrats at various levels in the New Deal apparatus... and a whole bunch of "nobody's" throwing in their more than two cents... at times funny and shockingly candid... but often matter-of-fact and sad.. and with many themes still relevant to our current 1%-er society and the recent banking crisis... the same arguments still being made on either side (progressive/socialist versus free-market capitalist; stimulus versus austerity).... The book was initially published in 1970. But the forward added in 1986 was particularly prescient about the coming market crash of 2008 and makes for a chilling read: ".....'Business Week' (Sept 1985) is singularly less sanguine. A cover story is called 'The Casino Society'.... it explodes: 'No, it's not Las Vegas or Atlantic City. It's the US financial system. The volume of transactions has boomed far beyond anything needed to support the economy. Borrowing -- politely called leveraging -- is getting out of hand. And futures enable people to play the markey without owning a single share of stock. The result: the system is tilting from investment to speculation'.... In 1929, it was strictly a gambling casino with loaded dice. The few sharks taking advantage of the multitude of suckers... Frenzied finance that made Ponzi look like an amateur.... Regulations that came into being after the Crash of '29 have been loosened more than somewhat. Especially for our banks." And bear in mind that this 1986 foretelling precedes the repeal of the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act that reached its culmination in the late 90's under President Clinton.... This is a highly worthwhile read....

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    A really great and very timely read. I highly recommend it! (If you don't want to read the whole book, This American Life recently played a number of them on the Nov. 7 show.) The book has such a simple premise- Studs Terkel interviewed people about their experiences during the Great Depression. He talked to a wide cross section of society - musicians, hobos who traveled on train cars, the wealthy, coal miners, Cesar Chavez, farmers, migrant workers, union activists, doctors, social workers, newsp A really great and very timely read. I highly recommend it! (If you don't want to read the whole book, This American Life recently played a number of them on the Nov. 7 show.) The book has such a simple premise- Studs Terkel interviewed people about their experiences during the Great Depression. He talked to a wide cross section of society - musicians, hobos who traveled on train cars, the wealthy, coal miners, Cesar Chavez, farmers, migrant workers, union activists, doctors, social workers, newspaper reporters, New Deal government workers, actors, painters, Saul Alinsky, Congressmen, Dorothy Day, civil rights activists, segregationists, and also a few people who didn't suffer or who even benefited financially during the Depression. He also interviews a few young people about what they knew about the period from their parents or grandparents. More than thirty years after the fact (when Terkel was interviewing them), nearly everyone has very vivid memories of this time and how it had an immense impact on their life. It made me wish I had asked my grandparents about this before they passed away. Even though the people speak in very simple language, most people are surprisingly articulate about the whole era, the hunger, the bread lines, being on "relief," FDR, the WPA and other New Deal programs, and a host of other topics. One woman summarized her feelings, "The Depression affected people in two different ways. The great majority reacted by thinking money is the most important thing in the world. Get yours. And get it for your children. Nothing else matters. Not having that stark terror come at you again... And there was a small number of people who felt the whole system was lousy. You have to change it." After reading this, I really don't think we young'uns are ready for another one of these!!!!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    So I started reading about the Great Depression to put the current situation into perspective. But, this book just depressed the hell out of me though. It's a great book, it's full of incredible stories that would've been otherwise lost, but it can be tough to read at times. Studs did a great job of collecting stories from every different perspective, people who lost everything, people who benefitted, kids who weren't even born until after. It was not only interesting to learn so much about the So I started reading about the Great Depression to put the current situation into perspective. But, this book just depressed the hell out of me though. It's a great book, it's full of incredible stories that would've been otherwise lost, but it can be tough to read at times. Studs did a great job of collecting stories from every different perspective, people who lost everything, people who benefitted, kids who weren't even born until after. It was not only interesting to learn so much about the 20's and 30's but since most of the interviews took place in the 60's, there was a lot to learn about that as well. One thing that really stuck with me was an interview with a guy working for a private relief agency in Chicago, "Why would a man work when he'd get the same money on relief? The men wanted to work. This was the dominant theme through all the years of the Depression. I very seldom found a man who was willing to accept relief as a process of life. He knew it was debilitating." I know a lot of laid off architects due to the current economic climate, too many, in fact. One of them was trying to understand all the different rules of unemployment (if you're working, and you make 25% of what you would make on unemployment, they start deducting a bit, if you make more at work than on unemployment, you're no longer on unemployment) because she said she would work, but only to the limit where they would start deducting from her unemployment. She would make more money working but she wanted to get her full unemployment. I think she is more the exception rather than the norm because most of us have found backup jobs to help out. It still shows a huge difference between people in the 20's and people today.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    Years ago, I read a wonderful Studs Terkel book called The Good War. It was a collection of oral history stories from World War II, and ever since, I've wanted to read another of Terkel's works. Hard Times is also collection of oral history stories, this time dealing with the Great Depression. While there is definitely value in this work, I was a bit disappointed. The majority of the stories were political in nature, with Terkel constantly asking about the communists or the unions. I was more int Years ago, I read a wonderful Studs Terkel book called The Good War. It was a collection of oral history stories from World War II, and ever since, I've wanted to read another of Terkel's works. Hard Times is also collection of oral history stories, this time dealing with the Great Depression. While there is definitely value in this work, I was a bit disappointed. The majority of the stories were political in nature, with Terkel constantly asking about the communists or the unions. I was more interested in hearing about the social and everyday life of people who lived during the great depression, and was looking for a non-fiction work more similar to Timothy Egan's excellent book The Worst Hard Time. There were a couple of interesting points that I took away from this book. First, that President Roosevelt saved capitalism in America because if it weren't for the New Deal, the communists would have risen to power. Second, that the New Deal was not in itself effective in saving the economy. Yes, there were testimonies of how those WPA jobs helped some individuals, but by and large, the consensus was that the New Deal stifled growth, and that the war helped boost the economy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lucynell

    This modern classic takes a different approach to the Great Depression. It's not a study, there's no statistics or economic theories. It's a collection of memoirs by hundreds of people who where there. It is mighty effective. Everyone's in it. Poor and rich, blacks and whites, migrants and immigrants, coal miners, sharecroppers, teachers, artists, bankers, politicians and activists, gangsters, it's almost stupendous the ground it covers. Their stories vary, as they should, and they are harrowing This modern classic takes a different approach to the Great Depression. It's not a study, there's no statistics or economic theories. It's a collection of memoirs by hundreds of people who where there. It is mighty effective. Everyone's in it. Poor and rich, blacks and whites, migrants and immigrants, coal miners, sharecroppers, teachers, artists, bankers, politicians and activists, gangsters, it's almost stupendous the ground it covers. Their stories vary, as they should, and they are harrowing, sad, funny and hopeful. It makes you think a lot, this breathtaking variety of perception. It sure gives gravity to the saying "you had to be there." Whatever you think you know you will be delighted to reconsider. Not that it will shape your own opinion but you will come out feeling a lot more broad-minded. If there's anything wrong with this phenomenal book is that perhaps those who already know about the time and key figures will have a smoother ride but that's about it and you will be swept away anyway. Non-fiction book of the year so far for me and I have the feeling it will take something special to top it. Unmissable.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    One of the better books I've read about the Depression. It's one thing to read a scholarly piece which analyzes the trends and mindsets of the era, but quite another to read the first hand accounts of the people who lived and experienced it. What I love the most about this book is that the interviews cover an amazingly diverse selection of people. Individuals from all walks of life, social backgrounds, geographic regions, political parties, and professions are represented here. It varies from de One of the better books I've read about the Depression. It's one thing to read a scholarly piece which analyzes the trends and mindsets of the era, but quite another to read the first hand accounts of the people who lived and experienced it. What I love the most about this book is that the interviews cover an amazingly diverse selection of people. Individuals from all walks of life, social backgrounds, geographic regions, political parties, and professions are represented here. It varies from destitute Midwest farmers to celebrities to high ranking politicians and CEOs. One would be hard pressed to find a culture during the 30s that isn't represented here. One of the things that I found so fascinating about this book is how similar the ideologies of the individuals going through that depression were to viewpoints expressed today in the current economic client. Truly an amazing piece of work.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Adelaide Mcginnity

    This is in general an amazing collection of interviews. Studs Terkel wraps you up in the depression by interviewing not just those who experienced it but those who sculpted it, from labor agitators and left wing rabble-rousers to bureaucrats in the Roosevelt administration to industrialists and New Deal political opponents. The view at the end is a multifaceted one, a mix of misery and success, of nostalgia and fear that a second depression might not end with a return to prosperity. If this book This is in general an amazing collection of interviews. Studs Terkel wraps you up in the depression by interviewing not just those who experienced it but those who sculpted it, from labor agitators and left wing rabble-rousers to bureaucrats in the Roosevelt administration to industrialists and New Deal political opponents. The view at the end is a multifaceted one, a mix of misery and success, of nostalgia and fear that a second depression might not end with a return to prosperity. If this book has one fault, it is that it does have a tendency to romanticize the depression somewhat; many of the interviews with younger people come across as having an air of condescension about them, as if these people are somewhat lesser for having not experienced the 1930s. But when it is good, it is good; where else are you going to read interviews with Saul Alinsky, Hamilton Fish, and Christopher Lasch in the same book?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alger Smythe-Hopkins

    I grew up with Studs on the radio, and his ability to talk with just anyone was always a marvel. Here he used his remarkable ear and talents to compose a ground level view of the calamity of the 1930s. What emerges is the narrative of a formative event in the lives of the people who lives through it, and so by extension the American relationship to all of the institutions that make up the nation. One striking feature is how little the actual problems people wrestled with in 1932 have changed. Fo I grew up with Studs on the radio, and his ability to talk with just anyone was always a marvel. Here he used his remarkable ear and talents to compose a ground level view of the calamity of the 1930s. What emerges is the narrative of a formative event in the lives of the people who lives through it, and so by extension the American relationship to all of the institutions that make up the nation. One striking feature is how little the actual problems people wrestled with in 1932 have changed. For all of our talk about progress and maturity as a nation, the election of Trump was fostered from the same aggrieved population as that watching the world go to hell in 1933. With less reason of course, but all the same claims that 'their' country was no longer representing the real Americans. Who says you can't learn from history?

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    These people are, of course, getting very old now and dying. I am especially interested in the treatment of women (teenagers)in the hobo camps along the railways, and would love to talk to one of these women. The legend is, and I think it's recounted in Terkel's book somewhere, that the girls, who had to leave home and hit the rails (or roads), were protected from abuse by the men in the encampments, as a code of honor. Mess with a girl "hobo", you were persona non grata in the camps. (and in the These people are, of course, getting very old now and dying. I am especially interested in the treatment of women (teenagers)in the hobo camps along the railways, and would love to talk to one of these women. The legend is, and I think it's recounted in Terkel's book somewhere, that the girls, who had to leave home and hit the rails (or roads), were protected from abuse by the men in the encampments, as a code of honor. Mess with a girl "hobo", you were persona non grata in the camps. (and in the boxcars, doubtless. Everybody knew everybody, one would assume, by reputation if not in person.) What are left of these girls are now, let's see, in their 90's, or older. There were about a quarter million or more, who couldn't be supported at home, so, hit the rails....

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Some years ago I read "Working," a very enjoyable collection of interviews with people from all walks of life. "Hard Times" is a similar collection, but relates to the Great Depression, when my parents grew up. I found this work somewhat of a surprise, as I discovered that not all people were in bread lines and a good many either eked out their living without being on the dole, or actually prospered. The going was somewhat tedious, however, as it is over 500 closely-packed pages. Even the intere Some years ago I read "Working," a very enjoyable collection of interviews with people from all walks of life. "Hard Times" is a similar collection, but relates to the Great Depression, when my parents grew up. I found this work somewhat of a surprise, as I discovered that not all people were in bread lines and a good many either eked out their living without being on the dole, or actually prospered. The going was somewhat tedious, however, as it is over 500 closely-packed pages. Even the interesting parts were somewhat dense, but it sure was comprehensive. gonna send this to my brothers, for their edification and review. I would recommend this, but just be patient, you aren't gonna get through it in one sitting by any means.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I had been meaning to read this one for years. It was a good followup to Woody Guthrie's "House of Earth". It's also a book that you can take in small doses over a period of time, even reading other things in between. That allows you to better digest some of the stories being related in first-hand narratives. Studs found an amazing array of depression survivors representing all walks of life and all viewpoints on what happened, how it was handled and what it meant for this country. Probably the I had been meaning to read this one for years. It was a good followup to Woody Guthrie's "House of Earth". It's also a book that you can take in small doses over a period of time, even reading other things in between. That allows you to better digest some of the stories being related in first-hand narratives. Studs found an amazing array of depression survivors representing all walks of life and all viewpoints on what happened, how it was handled and what it meant for this country. Probably the most stunning thing about it for me was how so much of what was being said about the 1930's still rang true when the book was written in 1968 and, in fact, still rings true today. Powerful stuff.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    I gave this 4 stars because I do think first hand accounts are the best way to learn history. Then it is more than just a date and the name we gave to an event or time period. That being said, this was one of the toughest reads of oral history I have ever had. Very little background on what the person was referencing is given. And some of them are incredibly boring and long winded. Others will break your heart. Well worth the read for any student learning about the Great Depression. It will cert I gave this 4 stars because I do think first hand accounts are the best way to learn history. Then it is more than just a date and the name we gave to an event or time period. That being said, this was one of the toughest reads of oral history I have ever had. Very little background on what the person was referencing is given. And some of them are incredibly boring and long winded. Others will break your heart. Well worth the read for any student learning about the Great Depression. It will certainly help put a face on the obstacles people faced then. And some of the myths about the WPA will be blown away as well. Not an easy read but worth the history it tells.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    Lots of stories here, including from a few people you've heard of (Rip Torn, Pauline Kael); those who did OK during the depression along with many who were impoverished during that time; true stories and some obviously not true stories. As always, Terkel had a great ability to get people to talk, and a great talent for editing the no doubt rambling conversation into compelling narratives.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Clayton Hauck

    Humanity during the Depression era, as recalled by important people, the average Joe and many in between. The pages weave between touching moments and heartbreaking tragedy. It's also striking to notice many similarities between the Depression of the 30's and the recession of the late 2000's. Overall an interesting read and a nice reminder of perspective in our own lives.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mary Sanchez

    First hand stories of people from different walks of life and their memories during the Great Depression. Mr. Terkel prefixes each interview with an updated account of the person during the time period of the interview. I appreciated that Studs Terkel interviewed Cesar Chavez and included his story.

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