Jim's Reviews > The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression

The Forgotten Man by Amity Shlaes
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's review
Jan 25, 2009

did not like it
Read in January, 2009

a miserable little book. from its subtitle, you might imagine it has something to do with the great depression. its not actually a history of the depression at all. instead, its an intertwined biography of a set of variably prominent public features from the 1930's. rather than reading about the lives of the millions of jobless, homeless and dispossessed you'll be treated to paeans to the unjust suffering of andrew mellon at the hands of heartless new dealers. rather than learning how new deal economic policies effected actual americans, you'll find endless references to businessman who were frustrated by their failure to extend their benificence more widely by overreaching tax policy. the book is nothing more than a collection of disorganized, imprecisely argued, undersupported spasms of disdain directed at the new deal.

as far as i can tell, the cast of characters the author has chosen were selected primarily on whether she was able to select unflattering (although typically insignificant) fdr anecdotes by including them. the book is written in a snide style - constantly sniping at the apparent villains of the new deal - variously demonized as being mean, self-absorbed, communist-sympathizers who were engaged in a monstrous power grab at the cost of all else. funny how they kept getting reelected.

in terms of the author's primary themes, however, her greatest failure is that she doesn't remotely demonstrate that the new deal didn't work. prior to the war, fdr presided over a 50% fall in unemployment and a doubling of the dow all the while the material circumstances of the poor and middle class improved significantly. certainly, 1939 wasn't the greatest of american times, but it was a heck of a lot better than 1931. you might imagine that a book whose afterword bemoans the exaggerated successes of the new deal, would carefully describe the relevant economic changes and point to the temporal relationships between economic policy and output. you would, of course, be wrong. the author's economic analysis instead involves frequent off the cuff comments about how new deal taxes "choked" business, how roosevelt's "experimentation" caused markets to remain unstable and generally how big government kept big business down. those things may or may not be true, but you'll not glean any insight into their truth reading this book.

apparently, modern conservatives have failed to learn the lesson that largely generated fdr's pre-war popularity - economic success and failure is not measured by gdp growth or the dow, instead its measured by the relative well-being of the population. while certainly, numerous new deal policies were either ineffective, counter-productive or constitutionally questionable - their immediate goals of improving lives is what counted both politically and economically. i get the feeling the real purpose of this book was to unearth some new anti-new deal talking points to hold off a grand government revival in the context of our modern reprisal of the great depression.

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05/03 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Don Incognito (new)

Don Incognito Great, that makes me more interested in this book.

message 2: by Steven (new) - added it

Steven Harbin Excellent review. Thanks!

message 3: by Gene (new)

Gene That was not a book review...it was a diatribe.

message 4: by Jim (new) - rated it 1 star

Jim yeah...well...so, is the book. at least my diatribe doesn't claim to be anything more than a diatribe...

Deedee Amity Shale's paid job was that of editorial writer for the uber-conservative, FDR-hating Wall Street Journal. I'd have no problem with her book if it was labelled "political commentary", like Rush Limbaugh's or Al Franken's. It is a big lie for her to pretend that this is a history.

So, in short, I agree with you. :0)

Kevinch417 While historians are people too, and thus have personal biases, it should be the historian's number one goal to remove as much bias as possible. I agree that this book was one big diatribe against the New Deal. While I didn't think "she must be a Conservative" while I was reading it, I did notice there was a clear disdain for FDR and anyone of any relation to his political views.

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