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The Great Depression

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The Great Depression was a time of sadness and poverty for many. It became an unforgettable historical time in American history. The author of the book The Great Depression, Pierre Berton gives a clear view of what happened from 1929-1941. He basically outlines the Depression event by event, explaining what happened where and who was involved. Although many books can tell stories of the depression, I think the author of this book did a good job getting all the facts and letting the reader know exactly what happened.

It is easily shown that the author, Pierre Berton, didn't show much opinion in this book. He mainly focused on just the facts. He would however give some personal views of reasons for certain things or explanations. He probably got most of his information from a textbook or actual documents. He did a good job compiling these facts into a time line of events. He explains who each important person is that was involved in the times of the depression and all important laws passed.

He began talking about the crash of the market, dubbed Black Thursday. The crash spelled disaster for the national economy. Corporations with heavy investments faced a sudden shock to their assets. This was the beginning of the depression. The national income slipped lower each year from 1929-1932, and it did not return until World War II. Unemployment became the most important problem of the depression to the people living in the US. Another major problem was that the agricultural prices were cut almost in half, and many farms foreclosed because of it. The author goes on to say that there are many different theories as to why the stock market crashed that day. One was that the attempts of the US government and the Federal Reserve Board to stop speculation caused an overreaction in the market, leading to the selling panic.

The next big event in the book was the effects the stock market crash had on America. The author did a great job by including interesting statistics and facts. In 1930, farm income had fallen to the lowest it has been since 1921. A result of this was that farmers didn't have enough money. According to Berton 5 percent of farmers lost their land. Nowhere was it worse than in the dust bowl, a farming area in the Midwest. Many farmers were forced to move west because of the soil erosion and dust storms.

Other than agricultural problems, the US was struggling in many different areas. The sluggish economy drastically reduced the quantity of goods and services bought and sold. The industrial and financial urban centers suffered from large numbers of business failures, which came about in 1932 with over 30,000 failures world wide. Almost 2500 banks were forced to close their doors because of lack of liquid assets. Because of these massive closings and shut downs, it led to massive unemployment. Unemployment was at an unheard high of 25 percent in 1933. As a result of this, children received inadequate nutrition and healthcare. Starvation had become an everyday occurrence. Some unemployed were evicted from their homes and left in search of jobs or charity. Between 1928 and 1932, the suicide rate in the US rose 30 percent because many people who had lost everything had committed suicide in shame of their losses.

According to Pierre Berton, the depression in both rural and urban areas demonstrated the inability of the US economy to cope with the impact of the of the stock market crash. Everything that could go wrong did for the citizens living in America in the 1930's. The author explains three main ideas of why the economy took so long to recover for the market crash according to economists. One being that inequality of wealth and income lead to instability and set the stage for the big impact the depression had on those at the bottom of the economic world. Secondly the industrial and agricultural worlds weren't up to date with the technology available at the time of the crash. Finally, economists believes that there was a short money supply, leaving the economy short of the assets required for recovery.

Hoover was discussed as an important figure in the depression. However he is not considered by history to have been successful against it. He didn't want to take action until the situation was exceptionally bad, and when he finally did, it was with reluctance. Berton believes that Hoover's programs came closer to those which would later be undertaken by the New Deal than is usually acknowledged. In talking about unemployment and business, Hoover's actions are usually considered by liberal historians to be too little and too late. While millions starved and were evicted, he refused to undertake extensive governmental measures in response. The experience of American citizens during Hoover's term left them desiring something new from the government. The nation demanded intelligent and effective governmental intervention to revive the economy. Franklin Roosevelt, elected in 1932, strove to answer this call during the remaining years of the depression.

Berton talks about Roosevelt several times in the book, showing that he was an important world leader of his time. During the first hundred days of FDR's presidency, Roosevelt started his plan for recovery, known as the New Deal. The New Deal represented a new era of government intervention in the economy. Roosevelt set up several organizations to help the economy recover from the depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was designed for a work relief program. The Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) instituted as a response to the needs of farmers. The National Recovery Administration (NRA) was created to oversee the revival of the business economy. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), one of the New Deal's most well known programs, was a plan to develop and conserve the Tennessee Valley, and use its resources for energy purposes. FDR's efforts at unemployment relief are also generally known as being solid ideas, if not altogether effective. The strategy of pumping money into the economy through work programs such as the CCC, which helped college students find employment, was certainly more effective than any of Hoover's initiatives.

The New Deal slowly faded after awhile. Author of this book, Pierre Berton, describes what some historians say are the reasons for these changes. Many claim that while the spirit of the programs was what the nation needed, the details were poorly constructed, leaving room for unhappiness among many groups. Conservatives argued that any meddling in the economy could have had no positive effects, while liberals argued that the New Deal struggled because it did not go far enough in its attempts at regulation and relief. Whatever the cause, it is certain that the New Deal was faced with many obstacles presented by a growing culture. In Franklin Roosevelt's



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