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Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression

4.2  ·  Rating Details ·  1,921 Ratings  ·  192 Reviews
"Hard Times doesn't render the time of the Depression or historicize about it--it is that time, its lingo, mood, its tragic and hilarious stories".--Arthur Miller.
Paperback, 462 pages
Published August 12th 1986 by Pantheon (first published 1970)
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Jul 16, 2008 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laura by: HSTAA 101
Shelves: history, biography
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.

Oct 22, 2011 Dorothea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Bob Schnell
Mar 17, 2016 Bob Schnell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, read-in-2016
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 ...more
Sep 11, 2016 Jessaka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology, politics
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 ...more
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
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
Stephen Futterer
Dec 07, 2015 Stephen Futterer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mark Hartzer
Aug 09, 2015 Mark Hartzer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 24, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Kate by: Toledo-Lucas County Public Library
Shelves: favoritereads
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
Dec 22, 2009 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jul 28, 2011 Diana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Mary Louise Sanchez
Apr 12, 2014 Mary Louise Sanchez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
Jun 20, 2009 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Ok....I get the importance of this oral history. And I was fascinated by some of the accounts of the Depression, but this was a SLOG to get through. I'm going to be excerpting some of it for my class on early American superheroes this coming semester.
Aug 23, 2013 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Sep 22, 2015 Scribd rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: friday-reads
When I visited my grandparents as a child there would always come a time, usually in the late evening after dinner, when I’d ask my grandmother to tell me about life during the Great Depression, and she’d dutifully recount stories about sharecroppers and her father hunting squirrels for dinner. For a long time, those images were my abiding impressions of the Great Depression.

Reading Hard Times, Studs Terkel’s monumental oral history of the Great Depression, I’ve been thinking a lot about my gran
Dale Minner
May 06, 2015 Dale Minner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this recording of oral history and Studs does a magnificent job capturing the individual experience of all sorts of people. He includes short stories from every class from homeless, railroad hobos, jobless working folk, through captains of industry to the highest levels of government.

Studs' oral history of the great depression is of particular interest to me. My parents were teaching in Springfield, Colorado in 1934, the year of my birth. Springfield has since been described as the cente
Nov 01, 2014 Riley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book really should be required reading, especially as the generation that endured the Depression leaves us.

One of many passages I highlighted, from a Southern transplant to Chicago:

"It's different today. People are made to feel ashamed now if they don't have anything. Back then, I'm not sure how the rich felt. I think the rich were as contemptuous of the poor then as they are now. But among the people that I knew, we all had an understanding that it wasn't our fault. It was something that h
Apr 26, 2014 Samuel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stud Terkel's HARD TIMES is an oral History of a broad sampling of 1970 Americans and their impressions and in some cases memories of the Great Depression. Interviewing several generation-representatives (some were parents during the 1930s, some were children, and some were born well after its hey day), Terkel captures the mixed feelings and nuanced experiences of the time. Rather than a monolithic state of economic and emotional depression, some people experienced the era with relative financia ...more
Oct 21, 2014 Angela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the big, scary themes of this book is about the shortness of our memories, the narrowness of our perspectives. It's really kind of awful. This book was published in 1970, and Studs Terkel - American genius if there ever was one! - interviews two generations: older people who lived through the Great Depression in the 30s, and some of the Baby Boom 1968ers, who are, in 1970, in their prime, after all. Also, in classic Studs-style, he interviews a huge diversity of people: from the wealthy t ...more
Apr 10, 2014 Jaksen rated it really liked it
An amazing book filled with voices of its time - both the years of the Depression AND 1969-1970, when Mr. Terkel did his interviews.

In 1969-1970 I was a teenager and so my review reflects both the Depression and the late 1960's. First off, the number of people (who Terkel interviewed) who complained about the 'present time' (69-70), and waxed nostalgic for the 1920's and 30's? Amazing. Yes, amazing that in a time period, the 60's, when most the middle class people who wanted to work were working
Aug 08, 2011 Lauren rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Other reviewers really seem to love this book, but I found it PAINFULLY slow. Maybe the whole "oral history" thing just doesn't appeal to me. I found the 3-page vignettes too short and unedited to be terribly descriptive -- much less insightful. I kind of just felt like I was reading a 1970's version of a "#greatdepression" Twitter feed. Too spasmodic for me.
Clayton Hauck
Apr 29, 2013 Clayton Hauck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Keith Schnell
Aug 23, 2014 Keith Schnell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Studs Terkel’s numerous works of oral history are of course incomparable in their ability to describe America. This is particularly so they are aimed at that particular point in the past which is distant enough to be unfamiliar, but whose society is not so different as to be totally alien – close enough to our own to shed light on the fundamental American collective consciousness that runs in a continuous vein from then to now, as people so similar to us face a crisis of far greater proportions ...more
Aug 20, 2012 Salem is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Well, RE-reading. Seems like a good time to bone up on the First Great Depression.
Rey Dekker
A good man-on-the-street view of the Great Depression where the author interviews nearly every strata of society. Some of them were somewhat tedious and too personal to draw wide conclusions with but many offered back-story you might not get in your typical history book ("I hated FDR"). I think the photos by Dorothea Lange and other photographers were valuable and kept the reading interesting. The overall design and delivery of the book left something to be desired. Didn't seem to have a real or ...more
Jan 27, 2015 Richp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most important books about one of the most important events of the 20th century in USA. (It does not address Europe, parts of which had it far worse than USA did.)

The oral history format provides a great supplement to traditional histories. If anything, this one underplays how many people did really poorly during this time, but it has the advantage of interviews with many of those in important government positions.

This revised edition has some interesting followup with people
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
Apr 05, 2015 Lucynell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-highlights
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 ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Please change cover 6 50 Aug 02, 2013 02:10PM  
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Louis "Studs" Terkel was an American author, historian, actor, and broadcaster. He received the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1985 for "The Good War", and is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans, and for hosting a long-running radio show in Chicago.

Terkel was acclaimed for his efforts to preserve American oral history. His 1985 book "The Good War: An Oral History
More about Studs Terkel...

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“What I remember most of those times is that poverty creates desperation, and desperation creates violence.” 15 likes
“The whole program of unemployment insurance, Social Security, was a confession of the failure of our whole social order. And confession of failure of Christian principles: that man, in fact, did not look after his brother.” 12 likes
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