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The Great Depression: A Diary

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  391 Ratings  ·  64 Reviews
Book by Roth, Benjamin
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published October 1st 2009 by PublicAffairs (first published July 22nd 2009)
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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.
Karl Nordenstorm
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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].
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 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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

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.
Eiron Evans
Oct 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shame the fourth diary for 1934 was missing.
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.
Giovanni Martina
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Ryan Dansie
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
A little repetitive but a strong message none the less.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Tom Darrow
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This is the edited diary of a lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio that he compiled from 1931 to 1941. It has a good deal of information for someone interested in the Depression, but Roth's story is unlike most other depression diaries. First, Roth was very well educated, so he spends a lot of time focusing on things your average poor worker wouldn't focus on. For example, most of the information he covers is on financial plans, economic theory and stories about acquaintances who lost everything in the st ...more
Chris Aylott
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
"For 10 years I have longed for normalcy but it does not seem so destined. My generation has already lived through war, boom and panic, but evidently we still have some excitement ahead of us." -- from the diary of Benjamin Roth, September 12, 1939.

Benjamin Roth was a young lawyer in Youngstown, Ohio when the Great Depression broke out. In 1931, he began keeping a diary, recording the economic chaos around him and trying to make sense of it. His story is dry, dispassionate, and fascinating.

I can
May 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book does an excellent job of discussing what it was like to live through the Great Depression from the eyes of a businessman (actually a lawyer). Typically, most accounts focus on farmers, factory workers or the unemployed. While it was largely impersonal (Roth did not discuss much of his own life outside of how poorly the legal profession generally was)it was still a very enlightening story.

Roth regularly quoted economic statistics and stock prices, which gave some financial color to the
Dee Renee  Chesnut
Aug 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, investing
This book was recommended as a book of the week on Consuela Mack's Wealthtrack show on my local PBS station.
Benjamin Roth was a lawyer with a sole proprietorship practice in Youngstown, Ohio and the sole provider for his young family. He kept a diary about the hard times and the developments as a way to understand and to learn from it. This book feels so current as he writes about his own worries about cashflow and bewilderment about government policies. These are real concerns for us today: ha
Mar 21, 2012 added it
Shelves: mp3
I read the book The Great Depression: A Diary by Benjamin Roth. I did not like this book. The book went from one topic to the next and it was very hard to follow. I also didn't like that there were no characters. Having characters would give you a better understanding for what people went through during the great depression. Even when the author discussed the stock market crash and people losing their money it would have had more of an impact if it was based on real characters. I would have like ...more
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“Hold-ups and killings are becoming more frequent and it becomes dangerous to walk the streets” 1 likes
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