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A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness & a Trove of Letters Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression

3.54  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,931 Ratings  ·  529 Reviews
An inspiring account of America at its worst-and Americans at their best-woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author's generous and secretive grandfather.

Shortly before Christmas 1933 in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to 75 families in distress. Interested readers wer
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published October 28th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published 2010)
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Community Reviews

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I am not sure where I first heard the name Ted Gup. It could have been a Goodreads friend, or it could have been an article by that author written more recently. When I investigated his name more closely, I discovered he’d written a book, this book, in 2010 about discovering a suitcase of letters in his grandmother’s attic. I’d recently had that experience, finding a huge trove of WWI memorabilia behind a wall in my great aunt’s attic: notes and photos from the front and letters back describing ...more
Susan Johnson
Dec 07, 2015 Susan Johnson rated it liked it
The book is set in the Great Depression and one man decided to hand out anonymously $5 gifts to needy people. This is probably like $100 today. It's very touching what an impact that gift made in so many lives. It follows up what happened to the receivers and what difference it made in their lives through interviews with children and grandchildren.

I think this would be ideal for a magazine article but in a book it was just too much. Letter after letter full of woe. It's just heartbreaking. I h
Jeannette Gloge
Nov 07, 2011 Jeannette Gloge rated it did not like it
This book had a very interesting premise. However, I found a lot of redundency in reading the book. I felt like I was being hit over the head many times with the same phrases and wording. How may times does the writer have to spell out that many people do not like to accept charity, but would like to work for a living! I know the content of the letters are repetative, but does the writer also have to hammer the words in his script as well.

Also, I felt the writer was enamored of this journey int
Jan 02, 2013 MD rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I read this book because I was born in Canton and grew up there and in nearby North Canton; and because I like reading about historical events and times. I had hoped to find a window into the Depression-era Canton my father and his family lived in through these letters. I was also intrigued to find out what the "hidden" history was.

I learned a few things about Canton that I didn't know, but not much new about the Depression - certainly nothing that qualified as a hidden history. Aside from the l
Kay Wright
Oct 20, 2011 Kay Wright rated it it was ok
A business man decides to give $10 gifts to the neediest families in Canton Ohio in 1934. In 200? his grandson finds a suitcase of letters from those needing help and decides to follow up on the families. Interesting idea, good New Yorker article but not enough there for a 300 page book. The stories are all the same, there's no enlightenment about the depression and the grandson tries to make the story more exciting by hyping his grandfather's lack of citizenship. I can't decide if the book does ...more
Mar 29, 2012 Cailean rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book! The premise was unique and inspiring. I sympathized with the author's uncovering of his grandfather's background, and the discovery of his charitable gift. However, I soon realized the book was too disjointed to allow the stories to shine through. I recognized he wanted to weave the stories of those struggling with the Great Depression's hardships along with his grandfather's background and secrets, but it was not done well. The chapter segues were awkward, and he rep ...more
Feb 26, 2011 Sue rated it liked it
This book gave me a huge insight about the Depression. This book is about a man, Sam Stone, who places an ad under a false name in the Canton, Ohio newspaper offering $10 to 75 needy families for Christmas in 1933 if people will write to him and explain why they need the money. He had so many replies he decided to help 150 families with $5 each. The author intermingles Sam's life story with the stories of the people who wrote the letters to Sam. The letters were stored in a suitcase which was gi ...more
Mar 14, 2011 Laura rated it liked it
I'd say this was 2.5 stars. I liked it, but I'm not wild about. I love the premise and the idea of a generous man anonymously helping out those who needed it the most in the middle of the depression, but I somewhat annoyed with the writing. I felt like the author was somewhat spoonfeeding us the details of Sam Stone's background and I would have rather come to my own conclusions about his kindness. That's just me though. I love hearing about the different people affected by the gift of the $5 an ...more
Feb 08, 2011 Lesley rated it it was ok
I was very excited about this book but it was a little bit of a let down. It was good when the author stuck to telling the stories about the people from the letters. But he often strayed from their stories to insert his own opinion and he seemed to feel the need to remind the reader how horrible the depression was(which wasn't needed as just reading about the families and their dire situations as the reader it was very clear that they were in a depression). At the end of the book the author prov ...more
Kelsey Bryant
Jan 31, 2015 Kelsey Bryant rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm writing a novel that partially takes place in Canton during the Great Depression, and this was an absolutely fabulous book for my purposes. I love letters, family histories, and family mysteries as well, so it kept my interest riveted. It was touching and gave eye-opening insight into the mindset of the times. The details about life in Canton are invaluable to me. I will be rereading it!
Molly (Cafinated Reads)
Nov 30, 2010 Molly (Cafinated Reads) rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Molly (Cafinated Reads) by: TLC
Reading The Secret Gift, put me in remembrance of Jason Wright's Christmas Jars. The way it's written, the theme, and outcome. However, I can't fully compare the two because the stories ARE different and, of course, one is bigger than the other. The time eras are also different. It's just the meaning behind the story and the emotions that I feel as I read them both. The Secret Gift is a life changing book. So much so, that I feel this book TOPS Christmas Jars. Simply put: I loved this book.

marcus miller
May 24, 2011 marcus miller rated it liked it
A rather interesting story which combines stories from the Great Depression along with some unique family history. Gup tells the story of being given a box of papers belonging to his grandfather. When he gets around to looking through them he discovers his grandfather had made an offer in the midst of the Depression. Placing an ad in the Canton, OH newspaper, Gup's grandfather offered to give small amounts of money to people suffering from the Depression. The ad was targeted towards those who h ...more
Dec 18, 2011 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Christmas season has long been known as the season of giving. When we think of holiday giving we usually think of what to give our loved ones, the boss, or perhaps to a charitable organization. During the Great Depression giving of any kind was an option for very few. The unique exemption was found in Canton Ohio in an ad placed by a Mr. Virdot. A few days before Christmas 1933 Mr. Virdot placed an ad in the paper in which he invited readers to describe their hardships and seventy five reade ...more
Holly (2 Kids and Tired)
Dec 01, 2010 Holly (2 Kids and Tired) rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this story. I enjoyed it so much that when it disappeared during my recent move, I was more than annoyed. I'm anxious to finish it as soon as it turns up, but my review will be the same, no matter what. Simply put, this is just a captivating book. It's a fascinating look into the lives of every day people during the depression. It's the story of a generous man, who wasn't immune to the troubles of the time, but a man who, during the Christmas of 1933, found himself better off than most ...more
Aug 12, 2011 Jessica rated it liked it
i did like this book, but it took me a LONG time to get through it. the premise of the book is that the author's grandfather gave a gift of money at christmas time to a number of families during the great depression after they wrote to him in response to an ad he put in the paper. the author tracks down the living family members of the recipients and recounts their history since then as well as simultaneously telling his grandfather's story whose life was shrouded in mystery the whole time he kn ...more
Rachel Bayles
May 25, 2016 Rachel Bayles rated it it was amazing
Beautifully researched stories about the Great Depression. Will make you appreciate every meal, piece of clothing, paid utility bill, and all the creature comforts. Which is really how it should be. Ted Gup is to be applauded. He has done a wonderful thing bringing his grandfather's story to light.
Julie  Durnell
Oct 10, 2015 Julie Durnell rated it really liked it
A true account of a benevolent gentleman giving money to 75 needy families during a Christmas of the Great Depression. The author is the grandson of this "secret Santa" and in discovering the suitcase containing the ad his grandfather placed in the newspaper as well as the replies he also uncovers his hidden family history. I've not read much of this era and found the accounts of the people who replied both uplifting and admirable. They had so much pride in their work and keeping the family toge ...more
Dec 11, 2014 Kerfe rated it really liked it
My great-grandfather, like the author's grandfather, came with his parents and siblings from Europe and settled in Pittsburgh. He also, like Sam Stone, then settled in Canton, Ohio.

My mother grew up in Canton, and we visited my grandparents and other relatives there throughout my childhood. The street names, churches, local employers, schools, that Gup talks about--many are known to me, either through stories or direct experience.

When I read about Ted Gup's book I was interested: did any of my a
Feb 25, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This book was so great for capturing the times in an engaging way. I highly recommend this for history lovers.

Note: This is not a Christian book and a couple of swear words. However the history was very good and worth it.
Mar 28, 2011 Laura rated it it was amazing
I highly recommend this book. It really helped me grasp the reality of the Great Depression. I feel like I now have a better understanding of what my grandparents grew up in and what obstacles my great grandparents faced. A truly touching book that has inspired me to give more and be much more appreciative of what I have.
Oct 18, 2013 Karen rated it really liked it
I like how the author wove the letters with the local history of Canton, Ohio and its citizens during the Great Depression. I felt both despair and hope for the community members. I can't wait to take the tour that is being offered to view places in the book.
This was a wonderful read!

The story basically takes off after the author's mother gives him a suitcase filled with family mementos. Inside, he discovers a packet of letters written around Christmas 1933 to one B. Virdot.

After a little investigating, Gup (author) discovers that B. Virdot was actually his grandfather, Sam Stone, and that the B. Virdot is a made-up name comprised of his 3 daughters names -- Barbara, Virginia, and Dorothy.

Anyways, 1933 -- It was the Great Depression, and things wer
Nov 09, 2011 Eileen rated it it was ok
There were some interesting parallels between the current economic situation and the depression as described by Ted Gup in this book. The difficulties faced by those in financial hardship were highlighted in the letters Mr. Gup's grandfather received after publishing an advertisement offering a gift of five dollars to a select few of the white collar workers who shared their story with him. He remained anonymous using an alias to hide his identity.
Once you had read a few of the stories the diff
Lo scorso inverno in una delle tante visite in libreria, questo titolo mi colpì molto e decisi di acquistarlo sul momento, senza saperne nulla, un tipo di acquisto che devo dire faccio molto di rado ormai, anche se tanti anni fa era forse il mio modo principale di acquistare libri (ma invecchiando, si sa, i gusti si capiscono e forse addirittura si raffinano ^_^). Ted Gup è un giornalista americano. Diversi anni fa la madre gli regalò una valigia piena di lettere e documenti un tempo appartenuta ...more
Jan 20, 2011 Zoë rated it really liked it
A Secret Gift by Ted Gup is the non-fiction account of how one man placed an ad in the newspaper during the depression for those in need, ultimately giving $5 (about $100 in today's terms) to 150 families to help them have a Merry Christmas. The book begins with an ad placed in December 1933, but manages to capture so much more than just a single Christmas, in A Secret Gift Gup manages to capture the entire spirit of the depression, and how in the midst of a time where families were starving and ...more
Dec 08, 2010 Ellen rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I grew up in Ohio and the story takes place in Canton, Ohio. While my parents were in their 20s during the Depression they never talked too much about it. But this true story about the author's grandfather deciding to give $5 to as many people as he could during the Great Depression. The grandfather put an ad in the local paper advertising that he would give $10 to a certain number of people who wrote to him. He was flooded with letters and decided to give $5 to people as so many people were in ...more
Lisa N
Jan 08, 2011 Lisa N rated it it was amazing
This is a first-rate story. Ted Gup, a former investigative reporter, a few years ago was given a suitcase full of obscure letters that had belonged to his grandfather. In 1933, his grandfather, under an assumed name, placed an ad in a Canton, Ohio newspaper offering $10 for Christmas to 75 families who would write to him describing their hardships. He promised anonymity. That ad and those letters were the contents of the suitcase given to Gup 75 years later. Gup tracked down information about t ...more
Kristi Thielen
Dec 20, 2012 Kristi Thielen rated it liked it
Journalist Ted Gup's grandfather, under a fabricated name, put a notice in a Canton, Ohio newspaper at Christmastime of 1933, that he would send a gift of $10 to anyone who wrote to him describing their financial troubles. The darkest days of the Great Depression were at hand and there was no shortage of letters. The gifts were made, the holiday passed and no one learned the giver's identity. Until Gup uncovered an old trunk with the letters, uncovered the stories of those who made the requests ...more
Mar 21, 2011 Michelle rated it liked it
Interesting book about Christmas 1933--- telling real stories of the plight of many families in the Canton, Ohio, area during the Depression. Stories centers on Sam Stone, who took out an anonymous ad in the newspaper offering $10 to a worthy families who would write to him about their dire situation--- he got so many letters that he ended up sending $5 to many, many families who contacted him. In sharp contrast today's "entitlement mentality" -- these families were ashamed of their situations, ...more
Elaine Bergstrom
Dec 28, 2011 Elaine Bergstrom rated it really liked it
Investigative reporter Ted Gup takes the story of his grandfather's anonymous ad in the Canton, Ohio, newspaper at the height of the Depression. In it, he called on "White Collar Men" to mail him a letter explaining their circumstances. As "B. Virdot" Sam Stone sent a $5 Christmas gift to 150 families and saved the letters of those he helped. Decades later, Gup discovered the letters and began tracing the descendents of those Stone helped. The result is a story of survival under the worst of cir ...more
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Ted Gup is the author of A Secret Gift, (Penguin Press, 2010) and two previous books: Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life (Doubleday, 2007) winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize from Harvard Universitys Kennedy School of Government, and the bestseller, The Book of Honor: Covert Lives And Classified Deaths At The CIA (Doubleday, 2000.) He is a former investigative r ...more
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“He was a simple honest man. He never strayed,

He never drank, he never smoked, and he never kissed a maid.

And when he passed away his insurance was denied,

Because he never lived, they claimed he never died.”
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