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The Great Depression: A Diary

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  434 ratings  ·  71 reviews
Book by Roth, Benjamin
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by PublicAffairs (first published July 22nd 2009)
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3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  434 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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I suspect there are few people who will love this book as much as I did. It is essentially a financial affairs diary kept by an attorney living in Youngstown, Ohio during the Great Depression. As an attorney with a thirsty interest in investment theory and an indecent obsession with all things Great Depression, this book was really right up my alley.

What made this book remarkable was the author's uncanny insight into investment theory. Over the course of a single decade -- the 1930's -- he singl
Apr 12, 2012 rated it liked it
So torn about this book. It's such a wonderful concept, and it covers ten years of U.S./world events during the Great Depression. Because it was a man's recounting of what he observed and how he felt about economic events, there wasn't a lot of "meat" to the book. There wasn't much compelling me to finish it, but I did just to see if more of a personal narrative developed. He points out some very good ideas about how to stay above water during a financial crisis, for example always having some l ...more
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Who would have thought that cash was trash during a depression? Well it is if you can't get it out of the bank. People sold their passbook savings accounts for 60¢ on the dollar! Government bonds were the only useful form of liquid purchasing power. A fantastic account.
Kalle Nordenstorm
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: diaries
Reading historical diaries is important for internalizing how uncertain reality is. Read and internalize this! It is likely that a new depression or at least 2008 will happen in your lifetime so be prepared for the randomness such events entail.

Reading this book Benjamin Roth quickly earns your respect as a level headed observer. None the less - time after time he gets things wrong. For some time he thought the depression would only last for a year or two. Time after time he finds a great invest
Feb 06, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book as part of a self-imposed homework assignment to learn more about financial history. The book's suggestion came from reading a smaller work by William Bernstein on personal finance. After reading about the dizzying heights of market speculation in "Devil Take the Hindmost" by Edward Chancellor, this book was a sobering reminder of the necessity to live within one's own means and to invest in a diversified portfolio for the long term.

I think this diary is extremely relevant and
Mar 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
I found this a fascinating read - mostly. There are entries that perhaps would have been better left out and they bordered on tedious. I find books about the Depression tend to fall into 2 categories: the black and white image of depressed poverty or the glories of the New Deal. This book is the life of one man. Just a guy who ponders what the heck is going on. I never tire of seeing the ways history repeats itself and Roth does a fine job of pointing that out.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was ok
It is hard to like a book like this. The flaws seem to vastly outnumber the good parts -- but that gives a somewhat skewed perspective. I didn't "like" this book but I'd still recommend others to read the first 100-150 pages or so, which is the heart of the depression. The remainder of the book is more about the years of the New Deal when things are okay (though not necessarily great) and the (Republican) author mostly complains about Roosevelt's policies. The most interesting parts were about t ...more
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is the diary of a man who was a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio during and after the Great Depression. The man who wrote it is trying to do two things as he writes: First, make sense of the depression, try and figure out why it happened and when(or if) it will end; and two, analyze how to invest during a depression of this magnitude. Some takeaways:

1. Lawyers did not do very well during the Great Depression. People didn’t have money, businesses were cratering, real estate wasn’t selling, so
Dec 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This classic book is a precious diary (starting in 1931) of a young lawyer, Benjamin Roth, from Youngstown, Ohio. His notes provide a vivid picture into the times of the great depression and the events leading into World War II. The interesting part is that if you were to erase the dates and just read the content of many of the entries in the diary you will be shocked to find out many of the same themes you encounter today. Even more surprising is Benjamin Roth's lament of people not learning fr ...more
Aly Mawji
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
During the great depression, banks fearing a bank run held onto their deposits. So if you had money in the bank, you couldn't withdraw it! People were selling their bank pass books for 60 cents on the dollar in order to get their hands on cash. Real estate investors with hotels and other buildings tore down the structures; this is so that they could lower the assessed value and afford the property tax payments. Work for all types of people including lawyers dried up. Stocks took a beating and di ...more
David McArthur
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Besides the Bible and The Book of Mormon, The Millionaire Next Door is the book I'm most grateful I read when I was still "young". The Great Depression: A Diary is now the book I most wish I had read when I was.still "young". It is fantastic! It is full of observed, simple, wisdom. This book should be required reading for anyone prior to making any kind of investment. Actually, everyone should read it. It is easy to read and understand, yet it teaches powerful lessons, we are all likely to learn ...more
Iliya Polihronov
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book not only brings you into the world of the Great Depression, it is also a real-world testament and reminder to some widely known but often forgotten truths: you can't time the market top, you can't pick the market bottom, most predictions are wrong, buying stocks on leverage is not a great idea, you will lose money if you speculate, having cash around waiting for great opportunities is probably not a bad idea, and anything can happen so you should be prepared [for the downside].
Dec 30, 2018 rated it liked it
The majority of the book is repetitive!!!!!! Its more about the stock market and the numbers rather then people and stories. He gives his opinion and insight into the why's and his predictions often adding notes years later. I found the first 40% of the book informative, after that I read probably another 30% and then skimmed the rest when I found myself rereading the same lines that were written in the previous paragraph.

Interesting initially, but quickly became repetitive. Still, probably worth a quick perusal for those interested in the depression. Very poor predictor of election outcomes. Hah.
Eric Reidsma
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed that it didn’t include more stories of life during the depression. A repetitive diary account of the status of the stock market. The investment hindsight to buy low and sell high was not insightful, but after reading this book I was motivated to increase my cash reserves.
Leo Ostapiv
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good about 1/2 of the book, creates a unique frightening atmosphere.
Than repeats itself.
My full review (in Ukrainian) is here
André Pinto
Jun 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Insightful reading on the ups and downs of a major depression. Great asset to improve the investor's understanding of risk/reward dynamics.
Eiron Evans
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shame the fourth diary for 1934 was missing.
Ryan Dansie
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A little repetitive but a strong message none the less.
Giovanni Martina
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wayne Jones
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting anf good reminder of the perils of leverage when downturns hit. Really enjoyed the book although slightly repetitive at times.
Oct 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gives you a great insight not only into Great Depression but also generally into USA and even world history between 1920s and World War II.
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting to see the depression over time especially pertaining to the stock market. Started to drag on towards the end, with similar journal entries almost repeated.
Mar 16, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: Planet Money
(4.5) Excellent read, a first-hand account of the Great Depression

A few interesting things about this:
* written by a lawyer (as opposed to manual laborer or a tycoon, perspectives more commonly represented)
* fairly dispassionate (well, he is a lawyer ;) ): without much reference to his own situation, Roth reports on the state of national elections, the stock market, local business, inflation rumors etc., so it's not a depressing account of how miserable he and those around him were. It's more a
Nov 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am enjoying this book on my Kindle DX. As I read I think the narrative is today's story. Some cute quotes follow:

[Insurance? No loans!:]
It is the old story of lending you an umbrella when the sun is shining and then demanding it back when it rains.
- Note Loc. 674-75

[The socialist party is eating this up!:]
People who are ordinarily moderate predict freely that if things do not get better very soon we will have a revolution in the U.S.A. and some form of Communism or dictatorship.
- Note L
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Amazing primary source document. When studying the Great Depression, there are plenty of tales of those that lost everything--but what about the professional class that almost lost everything? He really struggled to understand some big economic issues, and it was interesting to follow his learning process.

That said, this book is a rather slow read (though not overly long), so don't tackle unless you already have an interest in this time period.
Harold Citron
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great real-time walk through of the emotions that gripped the country during the Great Depression.

Roth mixes the personal with the local with wider events as they occur. This is complemented by the editors commentary describing the wider political and economic events of the day.

Certainly a worthy companion to those looking for some understanding of what happened during the 'Great Recession / credit crunch' of 2008 - 2012 and counting. Given how bad things were in the 1930's, it gives a signif
Cosmin Rusu
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting book. Definitely one that is needed in a bullish period like the one we are right now. Always be prepared for a recession, and have liquid assets on those time. You can buy a lot of shit with pennies. That's my main take away from the book.
Nov 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book a lot. That said, it's best read by someone who can skim well. It is repetitive in parts and, depending on your interest, parts may be very boring for you.

The good: It's a fascinating slow-motion look at how the Great Depression unfolded in the USA, from the vantage point of a professional Midwesterner. His observations about what's happening to currency, employment, local stores, other professionals, real estate, all (for me) fascinating. I feel like I learned a whole lot.
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical-fact
An extraodinary observation of the depression through the eyes of an ordinary citizen caught up in the thick of it all.

Roth records economic events as they occur on an incremental basis and then we realise he becomes deeply immersed and caught up and deeply affected by the crisis.

He has gone to the trouble of researching earlier economic events and to also include Government attempts to mitigate the problems and the cause and effect of these policies. He describes how people around him reacted
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