The Great Depression
America in the 1930’s
by T. H. Watkins, Little, Brown and Company, 360 pages.
Why do we need another survey of the Depression years? For one thing, The Great Depression is the handsomely illustrated companion volume to the fine public television series of the same name. For another, the book seems entirely relevant; we watch the tinkerers of the 1930s scramble to address terrible problems, not knowing that their unborn successors will be plowing the same seas a half-century later. “Boys,” says the New Deal administrator Harry Hopkins, “this is our hour. We’ve got to get everything we want … now or never. Get your minds to work on developing a complete ticket to provide security for all the folks of this country up and down and across the board.” Finally, read this book because T. H. Watkins is a fine writer with perfect pitch for the telling detail. He seamlessly blends official and people’s history through the use of resonant quotation. Listen to FDR bluntly tell a critic why he agreed to finance Social Security through a payroll tax: “We put those payroll contributions there so as to give the contributors a legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions and the unemployment benefits. With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”