Books I’ve Loved Reading… The Great Depression Diary

The Great Depression Diary

By Benjamin Roth


Benjamin Roth was born in the last years of the nineteenth century, passed the Bar Exam during the Roaring Twenties and was a practicing attorney in 1929 when over a few days in October, everything changed as the stock market’s crash wiped out everyone who was anywhere near it. On its worst day, the market traded 16 million shares. The next time it would do that would be 40 years later in 1969.

We think of that as the beginning of the Great Depression, a period in American History that changed all who lived through it. Many of us can easily remember a parent or grandparent who, for the rest of his or her life, reused paper towels or tin foil, or never stopped talking about the need to save for a “rainy day,” as a result of witnessing what went on in this country during the 1930s.

But the people in 1929 had no idea that they were about to head into the Great Depression, in fact, the newspapers and magazines of the day were saying that the markets would “come back” in a matter of months… or the following year.  No one was predicting that it would take 12 years AND the need to prepare for World War II for this country to turn things around economically speaking.

Well, reading this book absolutely blew me away. I’d studied the Great Depression in graduate school, and read quite a bit about it as an adult, but nothing comes close to reading Ben Roth’s diary.

It was 1930 when Roth said to himself, “I may just be in the middle of a major economic event”.  He wasn’t sure, but just in case, he started a diary, never imagining that he would keep writing entires in it for more than a decade. It’s written like you or I might write in our own diaries, and reading Mr. Roth’s is like opening a window into a period that I don’t think can be understood any other way.

As you read this book, you discover what was going on during our country’s slide into the abyss of depression… what the press was saying… what government was saying… what regular people were saying… and what Roth thought of the different views. And as you discover what was happening at one time or another, you’ll find yourself thinking how what you’ve just read could have been written today exactly as it was then. Talk about history coming to life.

You’ll also learn things they just don’t teach in school about the 1930s. You’ll learn that the depression was a FORECLOSURE CRISIS, for one thing. And you’ll learn how Americans came to distrust and even hate the bankers that cut themselves sweetheart deals, while leaving the regular people to fend for themselves.

You’ll learn how dangerous it was to live in America’s towns and cities during the Great Depression years.  The curfews, the crime, the farmers who had shootouts with law enforcement… and won! The judge that was pulled from his courtroom and almost hanged for refusing to stop the foreclosures that were affecting 40 percent of the homes in some parts of the country.

The Great Depression Diary by Benjamin Roth is one of the books that motivated me to write reviews of the books I read and particularly love, here on Mandelman Matters.  As soon as I finished reading it the first time, I immediately went to the beginning and read it again. It’s like a window into the future… because even though this time will be different than the last, people are still people, and will still respond to certain events as they always have.

If you read one book this year, or if you’re not the kind of reader that would dive into something long and difficult, this is the book for you.  It’s really easy reading… it’s a diary, for heaven’s sake.  And it will stay with you long after you finish it… in fact, I’m quite sure that I’ll never forget its lessons and its imagery.

Benjamin Roth’s youngest son became a lawyer like his dad, and even joined his practice in Youngstown, Ohio.  He gave his son the diary before he died, telling him that he had always dreamed of publishing it, but had never gotten around to it.

Then last October, as Lehman Bros. was failing and Wall Street was being permanently reshaped, his son thought to himself: “I may just be in the middle of a major economic event,” just as his father had thought almost 70 years earlier. He went to get the dairy and sent it to a publisher who read it… and figuratively speaking, jumped at the opportunity to publish it.

All you have to do is read the first couple of pages and you’ll see why. This book should become mandatory reading for students everywhere. There’s nothing like it.

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(P.S. The link below will take you to where you can buy the book, The Great Depression Diary, by Benjamin Roth. Just so you know, if you do choose to buy the book, I’d appreciate you buying it through that link as I’ll receive a small commission, 6%. It’s not a lot of money, I realize, but since I don’t sell advertising on my blog, I thought I’d try Amazon’s affiliate program. I’ll only promote books that I’ve read and loved reading, and I’ll review each so you can see what my thoughts were.  That way, I hope you agree that if you do purchase the book, I’ve earned my 6% commission. Happy reading!)

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