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Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s Paperback – Jun 29 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (June 29 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060956658
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060956653
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 204 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #130,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Review

"A style that is verve itself.... Besides telling the story of the bull market in fine perspective, Mr. Allen presents the first coherent account that we have seen of the oil scandals that will eventually make the Harding regime match that of President Grant and the Credit Mobilier story in the history books of the future".

-- New York Times

"A perfectly grand piece of historical record and synthetic journalism."-- "Chicago Daily Tribune""A style that is verve itself... Besides telling the story of the bull market in fine perspective, Mr Allen presents the first coherent account that we have seen of the oil scandals that will eventually make the Harding regime match that of President Grant and the Credit Mobilier story in history books of the future."-- "New York Times"

From the Back Cover

Only Yesterday deals with that delightful decade from the Armistice in November 1918 to the panic and depression of 1929-30. Here is the story of Woodrow Wilson's defeat, the Harding scandals, the Coolidge prosperity, the revolution in manners and morals, the bull market and its smash-up. Allen's lively narrative brings back an endless variety of half-forgotten events, fashions, crazes, and absurdities. Deftly written, with a humorous touch, Only Yesterday traces, beneath the excitements of day-to-day life in the 20s, those currents in national life and thought which are the essence of true history.

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Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful little book (301 pages) about life in America in the decade between World War I (Armistice Day) and the Panic of October 29, 1929. Frederick Lewis Allen - a career writer-editor for various national publications (Atlantic Monthly, Century, Harper's, etc.) wrote this book in 1931. Thus, he provides a quick, fresh glance back upon this exciting period - the "Roaring 20's" - that he'd personally just experienced.
Allen touches briefly, but poignantly, on all the important political, economical and social aspects of American life in these years. He includes capsule biographies of the
presidents: of Woodrow Wilson and his failure to successfully promote his '14 Point-based peace treaty and a League of Nations; of Warren G. Harding - handsome, personable, decent, but unaware, apparently, of the scandals taking place around him; of 'silent' Calvin Coolidge and his era of prosperity; and of Herbert Hoover - well-meaning, but unable to find answers to the deteriorating economy and the approaching depression.
Allen also describes the people, events and activities that impacted the lives of Americans in those years, including the fear of communism and socialism ('The Red Scare'), women's emancipation, the growing proliferation and influence of radio, the impact of new magazines dealing with the movies, adventure, romance and true confessions, the importance of newly created newspaper empires and chains, beauty contests, changing fashions, cosmetics, advertising, and new automobiles (Ford's Model A).
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Format: Paperback
The author details the ephemera of the roaring twenties and in doing so seems to capture the geist of the times. The country is already divided between the forces of "decency" and the predators, who, at the most articulate levels, profess "laissez faire capitalism."
The object of this French term is the United States government. By 1918 it was a fast ship, roaring to the aid of the beleaguered peoples of Europe, tipping the balance in the "war to end wars" in favor of the right side. In this spirit also, prohibition was passed. The moment the war came to an end, the American people fled from the banners of decency just as fast as their legs could carry them. The government became a derelict hulk captained by token presidents.
Wilson drove himself to death trying in vain to bring about a "just and lasting peace." Harding, the great American "good guy", enmeshed himself in the "Teapot Dome Scandals" perpetrated by his friends, the Texas oil millionaires. The author speculates that his rather unexpected death was a concealed suicide. The oil intended for U.S. naval reserves went elsewhere at a large profit, much to Japan.
The south rose again in the form of the resurrected Klu Klux Klan (the book does not mention its previous disbanding by the actual confederate veterans). They ruled at the state and local levels (hence "states rights"). Justice was an open joke, but who cared about it? The American people were busy pursuing a sexual revolution and illicit booze. The satirist, H. L. Mencken, had a field day. Al Capone ruled Chicago. Hundreds of rackets sprang up everywhere and small businessmen paid taxes to the mob.
Why did the government not act? Mammon was God and was being preached not only by the clergy from the pulpit but by its new apostles, the salesmen.
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Format: Paperback
Allen takes us back to the 1920s through the craft possessed only by skilled storytellers. He puts culture into its proper context by pointing out how rapidly things were changed by technological innovations of the time. For example, on page137 he notes "there was no such thing as radio broadcasting to the public until the autumn of 1920, but that by the spring of 1922 radio had become a craze."
The nation was in some ways, still in the remnants of an agrarian society, poised to enter the industrial, urban era, but not making the full plunge yet. Perhaps a transitional time would be a better label to put on the snapshot of this period. The reason I say that is due to the description he gives of the swearing in of Calvin Coolidge. "Business was booming when Warren Harding died, and in a primitive Vermont farmhouse, by the light of an old-fashioned kerosene lamp, Colonel John Coolidge administered to his son Calvin the oath of office as President of the United States" (p. 132).
The book is full of glimpses which fit together to provide a hoistic portrayal of the decade.
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Format: Paperback
The summer of 2002 is a very interesting time to be thinking about the 1920s, and this book is the perfect way to do that. One of Allen's major themes is the Big Bull Market of that decade -- how it gradually, little by little, seduced many economic thinkers into believing that the business cycle had been permanently changed for the better, and how stocks turned into a nationwide spectator sport. Sound familiar? As with our more recent bull market, the end wasn't pretty. But one of the things the book suggests is that we haven't seen anywhere near the calamity that followed the crash of 1929. (Allen finished the book in 1931.) I don't know that the book offers much guidance about what will happen next for us in 2002, but it does teach a powerful lesson about the ways that history repeats. Allen covers other ground, too, like the Teapot Dome scandal and the rise of Al Capone, as well as some of the more frivolous "hot" stories of the time. Among the other déjà vu themes he hits is how easily distracted we are by trivial stories when the economy is good. Nicely written, still holds up remarkably well.
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