Monday, April 23, 2012

"FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America, 1932-1939" by Tonya Bolden

I remember playing around with my Alphabits cereal as a kid--especially the ones with marshmallows! I would try to make all kinds of words on my spoon. Without a doubt, if Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America's 32nd president, had a bowl of Alphabits cereal, he really got shafted with a lot of extra A's. Lucky for him, it would work out, since a lot of those A's would help him craft his various New Deal agency acronyms--words like Arts, Agency, American, Administration.... so on and so on! It's certainly a lot to take in, but Tonya Bolden is up to the task her historically accurate FDR's Alphabet Soup: New Deal America, 1932-1939.

Given the current political climate right now, it's fair to say that many people are concerned about books that "lean" towards one ideology or another. Rest assured, Soup stays as central as it possibly can. It very nicely chronicles the Great Depression as it led up to FDR's election, his two term presidency, and the effects of all of it. Each major aspect of his administration is looked at from the proponent and opponent angles, making it an incredibly objective read. The best part: it explains it in plain English. Especially for a teenager studying the 1930s, a lot of political jargon can make complicated political shifts very confusing.

Bolden also does a great job of making Soup visually and intellectually interesting. Each page is never short on graphical representations, old photos, or depictions of historical artifacts. The margins usually include little extra facts about what 1930s America was going through, even going so far as to display quotes from anonymous and notable figures in the era. One particular letter to FDR is written by a poor man trying to keep his family together. The quote is peppered with spelling errors, a true testament to the lack of good education.

I'm a political junkie. I ate this book up, but I can understand the long-winded impression that some people and students might get. It covers over a decade of events, so it will be a lengthier read. However, it is well worth it. It describes ideas brought forward by the Socialist and Union parties (some of FDR's main opponents outside of the Republican party) that ended up being assimilated into FDR's New Deal (and Second New Deal). While those ideas may have turned out to be great boons to the economy and society, it puts a chink in the armor of a man famous for putting America back on its feet because he took those ideas without giving due credit. Any history teacher should absolutely utilize sections of this book to add flavor and spice to any lesson about the Great Depression and the following years. It also serves as a great addition to lessons on the legislative process (since FDR skirted it a couple of times).

1 comment:

Marisela said...

I feel it is a good read. I also did a book review on it and I enjoyed it because it depicts the law system here in the U.S and how despite the hardships FDR made great contributions for our generations to adapt, change, or work on.