Books and Movies Reviews

Crash of 1929

This book presents a delicious paradox. Mary Klein, a Professor of History at the University of Rhode Island, has assembled a remarkably detailed, wonderfully readable and eminently literate account of the decline and fall of the American economy. His research is stunning, his words superbly chosen. This is a classic of economic history, a standard by which other histories are going to be judged. And it is timely, for 2001 appears to be the rim of an abyss, like that of the 1930s. Are we about to fall in once more?
Prof. Klein doesn’t say. Historians often tend to say that they are interested in evidence, not in laws of causation. Yet in his prologue, Prof. Kelin mentions the dilemma of scholars trying to explain the Great Crash. Montarists say money had been too tight. Followers of the Austrian school that includes Hayek and Schumpeter say that money creation was too loose. Galbraith says he could have fixed the problem in short order while foreign trade experts point to the U.S. Smoot-Hawley tarriff as the reason for the strangulation of world trade and consequent decline of business revenues.
Prof. Klein does nothing to resolve the argument. But his prose is luscious and his research apt. Comedians, of course, made light of the era. He quotes Eddie Cantor, a singer in the era, “as for me, I am not worried. My broker is going to carry me; he and three other pall bearers.”
The Depression destroyed countless lives, including those of General Motors founder Bill Durant, who wound up running a bowling alley in Flint, Michigan, and the great stock market speculator Jesse Livermore, who went to the very luxe Sherry Netherland Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue in November, 1940 and, after a drink in the bar, shot himself in the men’s room. Prof. Klein tells the tale vividly.
What can be said of the Depression when all its warts have been counted? Prof. Klein has written a spectacular work of economic history, yet there is a point…

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