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The Great Depression: A Diary

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  584 ratings  ·  86 reviews
Book by Roth, Benjamin
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by PublicAffairs (first published July 22nd 2009)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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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 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
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
Nick Thorne
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is mostly a financial diary of the 1930’s by a lawyer. It would be more worthwhile if Roth actually bought stocks rather than talk about buying them the entire time, I realise he had no money to do so though. Its has a pessimistic tone which got a little boring sometimes. Its worth reading though to help you understand how worthless economic predictions are and shows what it’s like to live through history not look back in hindsight. Roth struggles with how to make decisions in uncertainty w ...more
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
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.
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.
Aug 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Some interesting insights, some worthwhile review of history, but awfully repetitive and not particularly well written. Could have used more editing. Not sure how many times Roth repeats the line (or variations of it) about having "liquid cash" to invest in the market during downturns, but it's too many times. Roth's political views are also frustrating - after experiencing what led up to the Great Depression, he seems to hold onto the idea that private industry should just be left to its own de ...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
Jun 09, 2020 rated it liked it
Read this book if you want a firsthand perspective of how hard life was for the average working professional or shopkeeper during the Great Depression. Ignore the editor’s notes (those were mostly distracting and took away from the text itself). I thought it was a bit long but due to it being a diary, there’s not really a climax or regular story structure. I most liked Roth’s insights on keeping liquidity during a depression and making sure to live below one’s means. He also mentioned that lots ...more
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of the books about the great depression were written on hindsight, rarely do you find something which is written during the time. Ben wasn’t a professional writer. As it’s a personal diary he never was expecting a wide audience so he didn’t use any fancy words and neither was he a trained economist. He is just a normal middle class lawyer who tried to make ends need. It’s fascinating to see the change in sentiment throughout the period, from super optimistic to super depressed, how people t ...more
Feb 20, 2020 rated it liked it
Probably only for buffs of financial history - Sort of a small subset of readers I would think. It definitely details the financial aspect during the great depression (share prices included), but very little personal insight to regular life. I did think the insight on FDR was interesting - from an educated professional man who sadly followed the market and its activities and trends, with no money to act on any of it. Basic history sings FDRs praises and this offers a take of: not quite. A lot of ...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
Yulian Bodescu
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A surprisingly interesting read (shown by how quickly I devoured it!) Incredible to read the experiences of a lawyer during the Great Depression (along with his opinions and revisions of said opinions); generally the Great Depression is something you learn a bit about in high school, where you see the bread lines and hear about Roosevelt utilizing the radio, but as with all things, the complete picture is a lot more detailed. A lot of the points Roth makes throughout his diary were applicable to ...more
Not for the faint of heart. Don’t read it if you’re worried about the economy.
This book is a bit like the Great Depression itself: the reader starts out feeling optimistic; however both the events and the writing rapidly deteriorate. The situation doesn’t seem to end until the last page of the book.
I’ve especially had an overdose of the sentence “business has come to a complete standstill”.
Although it’s not a particular pleasant read, it is an interesting book that teaches a few important lesson
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Roth's diary gives a very interesting insight in the period from the Great Crash until the first years of the Second World War. I really enjoyed reading this book because it shows how people thought during those years, whereas most books are written in hindsight. The diary is still very relevant today, and inspiring for those who want to learn more about finances such as myself. It also provides insights in how to accumulate wealth by common sense investing, even in times of economic depression.
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.
Blair Pedersen
May 17, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a lawyers journal about what happened during the great depression, which sounded absolutely horrific. It's a commentary on the markets and gives information of prices, price fluctuations, sentiments from his clients and friends and anecdotes as to what it was like to live during 1929 through to about 1942 in a steel mill town. There are a lot of parallels to today's world and climate with an old timer writing style and outlook.

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.
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
Malik Williams
Jun 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Best economics book I've read. Explains the history and experience of the great depression from a professional's point of view. So no he was not begging for meals nor was he an heir to the Commodore or other wealthy family's during this time.
Anirudh Ramanathan
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Factual accounts of events as they unfold are invaluable because they express the thinking at the time without being colored by rationalization and reflection. The author's foray into combination of economic theory and empirical observations was great.
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.
Ryan Dansie
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A little repetitive but a strong message none the less.
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