Amity Shlaes
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression.
Harper Collins, 464 pages, $26.95

It was famously said that three presidents served under Andrew Mellon, U.S. Treasury Secretary from 1921 to 1932. In March 1934 he judged that, set against the long-run background of American progress, the Great Depression was a “bad quarter of an hour.” While accepting that present conditions were “distressing, especially in terms of human suffering,” he thought that they reflected “a passing phase in our history.” A strong believer in the rule of law and the need for the state to respect private property rights, he was confident that the American economy would bounce back without big changes in his nation’s key institutions.

Mellon was right about the resilience of the U.S. economy, but wrong that the Great...


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