[Book Review] Hard Times

*Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all book reviews on Alternative Muses are for volumes I’ve read as part of my J biography research. I hesitated to use the word review, as this series heavily focuses on WHY I chose to read a book and what I got out of it research-wise. As a compromise, I’ll end each post in this series with a short review of the actual book.*

Hard Times by Studs Terkel


I read this book as a continuation of my research into the historical periods J lived through. The Great Depression, in particular, had a huge and lasting impact on those who survived it. Being an oral history, Hard Times offers a different approach to the subject. The book offers first-hand accounts from a wide variety of Americans. Many of their tales are harrowing or infuriating, whilst others are humorous or uplifting. Whatever their backgrounds or attitudes, the immediacy of their stories is unbeatable. Human beings are, at our core, paragons of ingenuity and stubbornness. Learning how dozens of (mostly) average citizens met the supreme challenge of The Great Depression with varying degrees of success is eye-opening and informative. It may have changed them, but they all figured out ways of moving forward into a brave new world. This was incredibly helpful to my process and research frame-of-mind.


This is raw history as told by “average” citizens. Originally published in 1970, it captures Americans’ recollections of an era then only a few decades in the past. The book’s subjects represent a wide spectrum of experience, background, and likability (or sometimes lack thereof). A particularly neat but judiciously used conceit is Terkel’s decision to interview a handful of teenagers and twentysomethings: people too young to have lived through the period covered but who grew up on their elders’ stories. The younger generation’s impressions run the gamut from clueless to insightful. The inclusion of their thoughts adds an interesting and necessary tension to the proceedings.

Helpfulness scale: 10/10

Entertainment value: 10/10

Studs Terkel, 1979

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