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The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression

Recorded on June 6, 2007

Location: The Heritage Foundation's Lehrman Auditorium 

It's difficult today to imagine how America survived the Great Depression.  Only through the stories of the common people - the heart of Amity Shlaes's history - who struggled during that era can we really understand how the nation endured one of the most crucial events of the 20th Century.

Rejecting the old emphasis on the New Deal, The Forgotten Man offers a striking reinterpretation of the Great Depression.  Shlaes turns to the neglected and moving stories of individual Americans and shows how through brave leadership they helped establish the steadfast character we developed as a nation.  Some of those figures - Andrew Mellon and Sam Insull - were well known at the time.  But there were also unknowns - the Schechters, a family of butchers in Brooklyn who dealt a stunning blow to the New Deal; Bill W., who founded Alcoholics Anonymous; and Father Divine, a black charismatic who steered his thousands of followers through the Depression by preaching a Gospel of Plenty.

Shlaes also traces the mounting agony of the New Dealers themselves as they discovered their errors.  She shows how both Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt failed to understand the prosperity of the 1920s and heaped massive burdens on the country that more than offset the benefit of New Deal programs.  She argues that the real question about the Depression is not whether Roosevelt ended it with World War II, but why the Depression lasted so long.  From 1929 to 1940, federal intervention helped to make the Depression great - in part by forgetting the men and women who sought to help one another.