Monday, July 8, 2013

America 1933 by Michael Golay

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the New Deal.  History professor Michael Golay provides a unique perspective on the program in America 1933.  This American tragedy is told through the work of AP reporter Lorena  Hickok, who was hired by Harry Hopkins to provide field reports for the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.  This organization coordinated the monetary relief efforts in the states, and the reports were needed to determine how pervasive the Depression was.  The book focuses on Hickok's travels from Summer 1933 - Summer 1934, when heat, drought and pestilence were at their worst.  Through her writings we learn about the plight of coal miners, wheat farmers, and the Negroes still  living in a South little changed by Reconstruction.  These primary sources make clear the despair of the times but also provide a few insights.  Although labor unions were active, Communists were still despised.  Many families didn't want to go on relief; instead, they favored programs like the Civil Works Administration that provided paying jobs.  (The business owners despised the program because the wages were too high.)  The program was short-lived, however, and even Hickok was happy to see it end.  The book also focuses on the relationship between Eleanor Roosevelt and Hickok, who were lesbian lovers.  I would have preferred fewer quotes from their love letters and more quotes from Hickok's field reports.  But, since FDR was the brainchild behind the New Deal, and ER was involved in it as well, it's impossible to leave them out of the narrative.  The reader will admire Hickok's work and marvel that American was EVER able to recover from the Depression, given the profound effects it had on industry, agriculture and public health.


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