Hard times : an oral history of the great depression

by Studs Terkel

Paper Book, 2000

Description

Recreates the character and atmosphere of this dramatic era in a collage of recollections by both well-known and obscure Americans.

Status

Available

Call number

973.91/6/0922

Publication

New York : New Press : Distributed by W.W. Norton, 2000.

User reviews

LibraryThing member figre
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member Anniik
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member sammii507
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
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member kcshankd
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
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that every election is terrible.
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LibraryThing member breic
A bit of a slog. Less drama than I expected, less diversity (both in the interviewees and in their voices), and more interviews with the rich and privileged. As an oral history, it doesn't compare with Svetlana Alexievich's "Voices from Chernobyl."

> I got out of art school in 1930. That was the
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proper time for any artist to get out of school. (Laughs.) Everybody was unemployed, and the artist didn't seem strange any more.
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LibraryThing member qaphsiel

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.

Language

Original publication date

1970

ISBN

1565846567 / 9781565846562
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