RAINBOW'S END: The Crash of 1929
The first serious account of the Crash of 1929 was Only Yesterday, by Frederick Lewis Allen, published less than two years after the event and still in print. Disappointingly, Klein's effort is almost a chapter-by-chapter retelling of Only Yesterday, adding some research from the last 70 years but lacking Allen's firsthand knowledge and writing skill. Klein (The Life and Legend of Stephen Jay Gould) is an academic historian. His prose is pleasant enough, but he dashes hope of depth or rigor with the claim that the Crash cannot be explained by economics, or indeed by any observable historical forces, but by a change in national mood. This assumption permits him to focus on such topics as baseball batting averages, flagpole sitting and hemlines between 1900 and 1928. He also explores the "irrational exuberance" fostered by the period's colorful Wall Street personalities, men like Sunshine Charley Mitchell, the great, attention-seeking bond trader who headed National City Bank. Provocatively, he also observes the period's preoccupation with escape—newly available through the automobile, the motion picture, sports and television—and its economic impact. Yet Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts analyzed the culture of the period more effectively in The Day the Bubble Burst. (Oct. 29)
Forecast:There are many books on the 1929 market crash, but John Kenneth Galbraith's innovative and engaging The Great Crash of 1929 easily remains the best account for the general reader; those already knowledgeable about the Crash will find this account wanting. Klein is a prominent business historian, however, and the topic should garner some review coverage and sales.