Book Evaluation – The Great Depression by David A Shannon

The Great Depression (1929-31), as it is commonly referred to, is still remembered as the most prolonged and most ubiquitous financial crisis in the history of the United States. Its far-reaching consequences spread across Continental America and its effects felt globally. A sudden decline in economic activity and the recession that soon set in exacerbated this dire cataclysm with unemployment rates soon soaring to some of the highest levels ever recorded in modern times. The federal government was quick to dissipate any information peddled by media outlets regarding this ostensible crisis as a ploy fashioned to avert panic and public hysteria (Roberts 78).

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Even so, subjective evidence depicting thousands of hungry people standing in soup lines and homeless individuals wandering across major capitals soon revealed the debacle’s true nature. It was such scenes that prompted David A. Shannon, a graduate of Indiana State College, to pen a moving account in 1960 about this not-so-distant past.  Aptly dubbed The Great Depression, Shannon sought to examine this dark period in America history by presenting the accounts of ordinary Americans and how the recession impacted their lives. In this 171 page book, Shannon presents an amalgamation of essays and newspaper articles with vivid eye-witness accounts of living conditions during this period. Thus, the purpose of this essay is to evaluate this literary masterpiece in addition to how these first-person accounts went on to bolster the overall integrity and authenticity of descriptions about life during the Great Depression.

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 Firstly, Shannon was acutely aware of the importance of producing a well-structured narrative in helping readers understand the reality that individuals had to grapple with during the late 1920s. It is quite impressive how the author acknowledges the need to configure his thoughts on this issue and includes other perspectives on the same as a technique to facilitate the reader in comprehending matters as they were then. Published in 1960 by Upper Saddle River’s Prentice-Hall, this book is divided into a compendium of events that took place during the turn of the 20th century and how they finally culminated in the Wall Street Crash of 1929. His overall opinion concerning this matter is that cautionary signs were present throughout the beginning of the century but ignored by all relevant financial bodies. Shannon raises a critical point that has often been overlooked by historical pundits. Though notable economists such as John Maynard Keynes believed that this particular disaster was unavoidable, the author firmly disagrees with this point of view. Essentially, Shannon firmly posits that leaders across the American society could have done more to forestall the suffering that befell most of their people by discerning the approaching economic tide during this period (Shannon). It is, therefore, remarkable how the author can strike a connection between the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression, opinions which would have benefitted the public immensely. Additionally, the author skillfully explains these hard-hitting notions by expressing his repugnance of Western society’s focus on modernity and cultural dynamism at the expense of the well-being of vulnerable members of the community.

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            The author also uses a novel approach by merging essays and newspaper articles printed during the Depression. They detail the conditions experienced during this period in a manner rarely seen before. From the onset, it is evident that Shannon’s primary focus is on the human story that is all too often forgotten by present-day authors. The author is aware of the undue attention that has often been given to the bankers and investors who lost money during this period. Usually, these were persons of great wealth and prestige who, later on, went on to liquidate their assets and use their equity to weather this fiscal storm. The author is categorical in stating that these individualistic tendencies were at the heart of the problems that the typical American encountered (Shannon). After a high-octane decade of financial success, it was such individuals that were responsible for the high consumer debt and the inability to regulate the market across the United States. The result of this sheer negligence was an inadvertent downward spiral that soon reduced confidence in the whole financial system. In light of these circumstances, discourses by upper echelon members of society solely focused on the losses that they were bound to make in agriculture, mining and construction (“Earliest Memories of the Great Depression” 55). Few made mention of the unimaginable suffering that their workers would have to endure in the years following the recession. By writing this book, Shannon seeks to tell the story of the so-called “ordinary American” using six case histories that appositely describe life during this murky period. Hence, the author presents a masterfully crafted literary work that explores the personal scale of the Great Depression.

            It is outstanding how Shannon expertly delves into a highly emotive issue using a conciliatory tone while managing to avoid sounding antagonistic or caustic. He tactfully avoids dwelling too much on the causes of the Great Depression and explores the profundity of its aftermath.  Although Shannon faces a melancholic realism in relating this story, he still manages to cover the massive numbers of unemployed laborers, malnourished children, lowered wages and purported government relief programs present with as much authenticity as he can muster.  He paints a clear picture of the suffering experienced by the burgeoning American middle class, industrial workers, rural farmers and school going children in an exceptional approach that is the preserve of top-notch writers (Shannon). Moreover, he communicates effectively using simple language that expresses his clarity when presenting his neatly organized ideas. He is thus concrete and specific in making his assertions about conditions during the Great Depression. By so doing, he avoids being ambiguous or obscure but is specific when expressing his opinion. Shannon communicates his desired message in few words but straightforward and concise. Furthermore, the book can be recommended for general readers, especially since it offers perspective into a preceding epoch that influenced economic policies across the globe. Nevertheless, the book is currently not easily accessible since there are few remaining paperback versions still in circulation and is also highly specialized.             In conclusion, David A. Shannon’s The Great Depression proficiently elucidates the recession of 1929 on a personal scale and explores the human stories behind the event. Using newspaper articles and essays, the author covers unemployment, famine, vagrancy and bank failures in an approach rarely seen before. The use of logically structured arguments and the use of brief but straightforward language further augment his literary technique, aiding readers to gain perception of events whose impact is still felt in contemporary times. I found the book very interesting and was moved by the eye-witness accounts presented by the author. As a result, I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking an in-depth evaluation and a better understanding of the Great Depression.

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