Milton Meltzer Caroline Bird - Essay

Caroline Bird

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Robert Goldston's "The Great Depression" summarizes the politics of [the] era from Hoover to Willkie in the terms Roosevelt liberals used to describe them at the time. Milton Meltzer's "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"… aspires to tell "what happened to auto workers and wheat farmers, to sales clerks and secretaries, to teachers and doctors, to miners and sharecroppers, to old folks and children, to white and black" between the Crash and the inauguration of Roosevelt. Both draw on the emerging photo-journalism of the day for illustration, but Meltzer relies heavily on eye-witness accounts of the time, while Goldston describes and interprets trends as if he were writing a newspaper feature story….

[The] Meltzer book is much better reading, and why shouldn't it be? Not only does it quote liberally from such masters as John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, Louis Adamic, Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, but from scores of reporters and witnesses whose conviction made them momentarily eloquent. The selection is expert and wide-ranging. The most suspicious teen-ager cannot but recognize that (whatever has happened to these people since) they were speaking from the heart. Explanations are brief, clear, and free of journalistic jargon.

Caroline Bird, in her review of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 23, 1969, p. 26.