The best books about the Great Depression

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the Great Depression and why they recommend each book.

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The Orchard

By Adele Crockett Robertson,

Book cover of The Orchard: A Memoir

The Orchard is a mesmerizing story of one woman’s efforts to save her family farm in Depression-era Massachusetts. It is a glimmering and moving memoir of “Kitty” Robertson’s determination to save the small orchard she inherited from her father, the last thing that linked her family to their history. It is a story of struggle and determination, and she is a heroine who didn’t receive medals or accolades or fortune for accepting the bone-cold physical labor in winters, inherited debt, broken dreams. Somehow she is able to still see the beauty in the grit of farm life in a grim period, spring blossoms in the orchard, the green of summer, the kindness of neighbors as they help each other through challenge after challenge.

In the end, it is a narrative of redemption and victory and reminds me that the life of farming and writing is hard scrapple, but it is…


Who am I?

I am a winegrower, farmer, writer, photographer, and pop-upeuse. I fell in love with food and wine while living and working in Italy, then returned stateside to create an homage to the people and place that embraced us and taught us so much. That endeavor--the restaurant osteria pane e salute opened with my chef husband Caleb Barber—was where I curated the wine program and became passionate about wines farmed artfully. I began working as a winegrower in 2007, a personal landscape experiment that led me down the rabbit hole of growing and making wine from hybrid varieties focused on regenerative viticulture and low intervention winemaking.

I wrote...

An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir

By Deirdre Heekin,

Book cover of An Unlikely Vineyard: The Education of a Farmer and Her Quest for Terroir

What is my book about?

Against all odds, I planted vines on my hillside farm in Vermont believing that what I was embarking on was a small experimental and personal project about growing natural wine in the fringe wine region of Vermont. What happened instead was the blossoming of a vineyard that has become one of the most creative projects in American wine. An Unlikely Vineyard tells the story of our farm and winery, our kitchen and table, from overgrown fields to a fertile, productive, and beautiful landscape that melds with its natural environment.

We wanted to create, or rediscover, a true sense of place using the philosophy and techniques gleaned from organic gardening, permaculture, and regenerative farming. Written as a joyful and inspiring narrative that celebrates wine, food, farms, and connecting with the landscape.

Lords of Finance

By Liaquat Ahamed,

Book cover of Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

I have always been fascinated by World War I history. But as a financial historian, I was especially enthralled by this dramatic story of the four central bankers who ruled that era. With great insight and humanity, Ahamed shows how the bankers’ well-intended struggle to restore the world to “how it was before the war” tragically doomed the world to another war – and taught a generation of future leaders to make smarter decisions after World War II. An essential prelude to the Roaring Twenties! 


Who am I?

When I first started covering Wall Street as a reporter, I faced a steep learning curve. I had always loved history, but I knew almost nothing about the history of Wall Street itself. I started educating myself -- and what began as a utilitarian effort to do my job better became a life-changing passion. Too often, financial history gets written for analysts and academics; it was a rare joy to find writers who told these wonderful Wall Street tales in an engaging, accessible way. That became my goal as an author: to write financial history in a way that could fascinate the general reader.


I wrote...

A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History

By Diana B. Henriques,

Book cover of A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History

What is my book about?

Black Monday – October 19, 1987 – was a crash that nearly broke the machinery of the American market. But Black Monday didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the result of years of extraordinary but little-noticed changes on Wall Street and in Washington that set the stage for the crash – and that continue to shape our financial life today. Understanding how Black Monday happened is essential to understanding how it could happen again. 

The Great Depression of the 1930s

By Nicholas Crafts (editor), Peter Fearon (editor),

Book cover of The Great Depression of the 1930s: Lessons for Today

This book is highly recommended for those who want to get an overview of the newest research on the Great Depression. Written by leading economic historians, the book explains what made the catastrophe possible, why it spread across the globe, and how it was ended. Most importantly, the authors manage to explain the scholarly literature in a language that can be understood by everyone interested in the period.


Who am I?

Since I began to study history at the university, I have always wondered why things could get so wrong in Europe in the 1930s. The key to understanding this crucial period of world history was the failure of economic policy. In the course of my studies, many of my questions have been answered, but I am still wondering about the extent of human and institutional collapse. Hence, to me, the Great Depression is such a fascinating topic that you can never leave once you started doing research about its causes and consequences.


I wrote...

1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

By Tobias Straumann,

Book cover of 1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

What is my book about?

Germany's financial collapse in the summer of 1931 was one of the biggest economic catastrophes of modern history. It led to a global panic, brought down the international monetary system, and turned a worldwide recession into a prolonged depression. The crisis also contributed decisively to the rise of Hitler. Within little more than a year of its onset, the Nazis were Germany's largest political party at both the regional and national level, paving the way for Hitler's eventual seizure of power in January 1933.

End of Globalization

By Harold James,

Book cover of End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression

Financial crises are not only catastrophic because of their devastating economic consequences. They also unleash radical political forces undermining the foundations of our free and open society. Widely praised for his work on Germany in the interwar years, Harold James is the best historian to describe the vicious circle of crisis, radicalization, and national isolation in the 1930s and to discuss the question: can it happen again?


Who am I?

Since I began to study history at the university, I have always wondered why things could get so wrong in Europe in the 1930s. The key to understanding this crucial period of world history was the failure of economic policy. In the course of my studies, many of my questions have been answered, but I am still wondering about the extent of human and institutional collapse. Hence, to me, the Great Depression is such a fascinating topic that you can never leave once you started doing research about its causes and consequences.


I wrote...

1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

By Tobias Straumann,

Book cover of 1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

What is my book about?

Germany's financial collapse in the summer of 1931 was one of the biggest economic catastrophes of modern history. It led to a global panic, brought down the international monetary system, and turned a worldwide recession into a prolonged depression. The crisis also contributed decisively to the rise of Hitler. Within little more than a year of its onset, the Nazis were Germany's largest political party at both the regional and national level, paving the way for Hitler's eventual seizure of power in January 1933.

Hall of Mirrors

By Barry Eichengreen,

Book cover of Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, the Great Recession, and the Uses-And Misuses-Of History

Our view of the Great Depression was changed by the Great Recession following the financial crisis of 2008. No one has a better grasp of the similarities and differences between the two major economic shocks of the last 100 years than Barry Eichengreen. Most interesting are Eichengreen’s reflections about the right and wrong lessons the firefighters of the 2008 financial crisis drew from the Great Depression.


Who am I?

Since I began to study history at the university, I have always wondered why things could get so wrong in Europe in the 1930s. The key to understanding this crucial period of world history was the failure of economic policy. In the course of my studies, many of my questions have been answered, but I am still wondering about the extent of human and institutional collapse. Hence, to me, the Great Depression is such a fascinating topic that you can never leave once you started doing research about its causes and consequences.


I wrote...

1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

By Tobias Straumann,

Book cover of 1931: Debt, Crisis, and the Rise of Hitler

What is my book about?

Germany's financial collapse in the summer of 1931 was one of the biggest economic catastrophes of modern history. It led to a global panic, brought down the international monetary system, and turned a worldwide recession into a prolonged depression. The crisis also contributed decisively to the rise of Hitler. Within little more than a year of its onset, the Nazis were Germany's largest political party at both the regional and national level, paving the way for Hitler's eventual seizure of power in January 1933.

Cider with Rosie

By Laurie Lee,

Book cover of Cider with Rosie

In my book I talk about how many people miss out on the love they expect—the love of a mother, father, spouse, or child—and yet how most of us survive by finding the love we need elsewhere. In Cider with Rosie, Laurie’s father abandons his family, but Laurie’s mother shines: her frisks and gaieties, her fits of screams, her love of man. This is the childhood memoir of one of the great (somewhat unacknowledged) poets of the twentieth century.


Who am I?

I’m an Australian writer and journalist. I’ve written several humour books, as well as a history of Australia in the 1960 and 1970s called The Land Before Avocado. I also write for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Washington Post and present a radio show on ABC Radio Sydney. Of the books I’ve written, the one that’s closest to my heart is my memoir Flesh Wounds.


I wrote...

Flesh Wounds

By Richard Glover,

Book cover of Flesh Wounds

What is my book about?

Flesh Wounds is a defiant and, I hope, funny book about growing up in a dysfunctional family. My mother had a fake past, hidden under delusions of grandeur. My father had more conventional problems. Together they had me—using artificial insemination, my mother said, due to her unwillingness to consummate the marriage. She found herself pregnant and yet still a virgin. In the book, I describe a game of my own invention called “Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents.” Maybe you’d like to play. Who knows? You may even win.

Mother's Century

By Richard L. Hermann,

Book cover of Mother's Century: A Survivor, Her People and Her Times

This biography of the author’s mother and role model is as much a portrait of an intelligent, cultured, resilient woman as it is a well-researched history of the hundred-and-one years she lived through. Born into a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna she lived through World War I, post-war depression, antisemitism, and the violent rise of Nazism. With courage and determination she found a way to escape the worst horrors of the Holocaust (although many in her family did not) and faced the challenges of building a new life in a new culture.


Who am I?

World War II has been the background of my life. My Viennese family fled the Nazi regime. My childhood was peopled with Holocaust survivors and other people displaced by war. My uncle was a refugee and was trained as a Ritchie Boy and sent to war. I have been inspired by how people can survive traumatic times and come out stronger and kinder.


I wrote...

All That Lingers

By Irene Wittig,

Book cover of All That Lingers

What is my book about?

A sweeping, powerful saga of love, friendship, loss, and betrayal that spans three decades of pre-war, wartime, and post World War 2 Vienna. Ultimately, it is the resilience of the human spirit that will linger in the reader’s mind long after the last page is turned.

An Easy Death

By Charlaine Harris,

Book cover of An Easy Death

Here’s a really tricky one. If you’ve ever heard of the True Blood series, you know this author. An Easy Death begins an unusual series for her. This is an alternate history western with a fantasy twist. Some people don’t see alternate history as historical fiction, but I do. This novel follows a similar vein to The Man in the High Castle, where one major shift in history changes everything.

After the assassination of FDR in the 1930s, the US collapses and is picked off by the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We find ourselves in the Southwestern states, now known as Texoma. It is here that the gunnie Lizbeth Rose tries to piece out a life, running security on runs from Texoma across the border to Mexico.

It’s an amazingly rich story woven into an alternate western setting. If you love to bend the rules of history, you…


Who am I?

Growing up in West Texas, westerns were just as good as bedtime stories to me. I grew up with all the greats… and the not as greats. The quality didn’t always matter because the spirit was the same. Freedom, opportunity, and possible lawlessness. Survival of the quickest draw. An untamed place where anything could happen. Someone once said that the western genre was America’s genre. It was invented here and our frontier spirit inspired the world. When I decided to write Hour Glass, I channeled the independent spirit of those westerns I grew up with. I wrote the first draft in sixteen days out of pure passion for the subject matter. 


I wrote...

Hour Glass

By Michelle Rene,

Book cover of Hour Glass

What is my book about?

Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of 12-year-old Jimmy Glass.   

After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss. In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood’s inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all.

The Librarian's Journey

By Patty Smith Hall, Cynthia Hickey, Marilyn Turk

Book cover of The Librarian's Journey: 4 Historical Romances

This is a collection of four novellas that feature pack horse librarians, a project of the Works Progress Administration that delivered books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains between 1935 and 1943. I knew nothing about the program and was captivated by these brave women who traveled deep into the mountains by themselves to bring reading and education to the poor (As someone who loses her car in a mall parking lot I can’t imagine doing this). What I loved most about the stories is the impetus it created for me to dig deeper into the program and the women themselves. Being a book lover and former library trustee, what these women did moved me on a deeply emotional level.


Who am I?

As a former Human Resources executive I’m fascinated by the history of women in the workforce, especially in jobs that have traditionally been held by men. I was first drawn into the topic as a writer of WWII novels. Through memoirs, autobiographies, and oral history interviews I learned firsthand about women who entered the workforce to take the place of men who were serving in combat or the defense industry. In an effort to spotlight the women of this era as well as those who have gone before, many of my protagonists hold unusual jobs such as spy, war correspondent, pilot, doctor, restaurant owner, and gold miner. 


I wrote...

Spies & Sweethearts: A WWII Romance

By Linda Shenton Matchett,

Book cover of Spies & Sweethearts: A WWII Romance

What is my book about?

She wants to do her part. He’s just trying to stay out of the stockade. Will two agents deep behind enemy lines find capture… or love?

Running for her life, OSS agent Emily Strealer clings to her mentor’s military experience during the harrowing three-hundred-mile trek to neutral Switzerland. And while Gerard can’t bear the thought of his partner falling into German hands, their forged papers might not be enough to get them over the border. Can the fugitive pair receive God’s grace to elude the SS and discover the future He intended?

In a Far-Off Land

By Stephanie Landsem,

Book cover of In a Far-Off Land

Biblical allegory is hard to do well. Bible stories themselves have infinite depths, but their allegories are often didactic, especially when author parallels the original story too closely. Stephanie Landem’s In a Far-Off Land is anything but didactic. Set in 1930s Hollywood, the novel is equal parts Prodigal Son retelling, romance, and murder mystery. By allowing the story to take on a life of its own, Landsem avoids the Sunday School vibe, and in the end, I understood the Prodigal Son archetypal characters better.


Who am I?

I’m a writer married to a theologian. My husband and I often discuss Augustine and Aquinas, Austen and Tolstoy, Christie and Sayers, and trends in popular fiction—when we’re not discussing Frog and Toad, Elephant and Piggie, baby diapers, and what to make for dinner. Love stories have long been my favorite stories, and I’ve always enjoyed historical settings. My award-winning novel In Pieces, a 1793 Boston-set historical romance with elements of family drama, society drama, and political suspense, combines all these interests. I even managed to sneak in a diaper-changing scene.


I wrote...

In Pieces

By Rhonda Ortiz,

Book cover of In Pieces

What is my book about?

Boston, 1793—Beautiful and artistic, the only daughter of a prominent merchant, Molly Chase cannot help but attract everyone’s notice. But she carries a painful secret: her father committed suicide and she found his body. When Molly moves in the Robb family, society assumes the worst, tempting her to take the easy way out: a marriage of convenience.

Merchant sailor Josiah Robb is as familiar to Molly as a brother—as dear and as exasperating. She is no sister to him, but sailing the seas leaves no time for convincing Molly he is more than her teasing childhood friend. Josiah wants a new job and a fresh start, and when he agrees to carry a confidential letter to President Washington, his life is forever changed.

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