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ONLY YESTERDAY,- An Informal History of the 1920's
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There seems to be direct connections from the 1920's to the current collapse of the world financial system. ONLY YESTERDAY, gives you a picture of the roaring twenties, the new freedoms,-sex, prohibition, ex-servicemen,-Al Capone, politics, crime, inflation, unemployment, corruption--does it all sound familiar?

I. PRELUDE: MAY, 1919

II. BACK TO NORMALCY

III. THE BIG RED SCARE

IV. AMERICA CONVALESCENT

V. THE REVOLUTION IN MANNERS AND MORALS

VI. HARDING AND THE SCANDALS

VII. COOLIDGE PROSPERITY

VIII. THE BALLYHOO YEARS

IX. THE REVOLT OF THE HIGHBROWS

X. ALCOHOL AND AL CAPONE

XI. HOME, SWEET FLORIDA

XII. THE BIG BULL MARKET

XIII. CRASH!

XIV. AFTERMATH: 1930-31

Customer Reviews:

  • Influential
    I remember reading this book some 30 years ago. I don't know where I got it from and I no longer have it but it has coloured my thinking about finance, morals, the markets, everything about modern day life in the late 20th and early 21st century ever since. It has all come around again but thankfully and hopefully economists now know more about the way that the financial world works and the present difficulties will not last as long as the previous one - it took WW2 to get the Western world back on its feet!...more info
  • Contemporary AND historical!Recently while doing research for an exhibition on the 1920s, I purchased this fabulous little book
    Recently while doing research for an exhibition on the 1920s, I purchased this fabulous little book called Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. Historian Frederick Lewis Allen wrote it in 1931, before Prohibition was even repealed!

    I bought it because I wanted a contemporary perspective on the decade from someone who was there. I was astounded at his insight into a decade that he not only lived through, but also did not have much distance from.

    As a rule, historians generally wait at least a decade in order to examine the recent past. When you are still living through it, you often don't have enough perspective to evaluate what the implications were or are going to be.

    However, Allen was spot on with his analysis of the 1920s. He admits early in the text that he is not trying to make any sweeping historical observations, and he is keenly aware of the dangers of trying to interpret events that were so recent. Instead, he says he is writing to capture the spirit of the age, as he remembers it.

    But I found that many of his statements were consistent with current historical scholarship of that era.

    His analysis of the Red Scare was particularly insightful. He writes, "...upholders of every sort of cause, good, bad, and indifferent, all wrapped themselves in Old Glory and the mantle of the Founding Fathers and allied their opponents with Lenin...A cloud of suspicion hung in the air, and intolerance became an American virtue."

    Considering he was writing only 10 years after fear of communism swept this country, I was impressed with his courage to be honest about what was really going on. Although by the end of the decade, people were no longer concerned about a communist revolution, those who led the charge were certainly still alive.

    His attitude toward Prohibition represented the common thought of the era that the "noble experiment" was indeed a failure. Yet, it would be two years after his book was published that the 21st amendment was ratified.

    He accurately describes the spirit of the times, writing, "In those days people sat with bated breath to hear how So-and-So had made very good gin right in his own cellar, and just what formula would fulfill the higher destiny of raisins, and how bootleggers brought liquor down from Canada."

    The 1920s were of course a time of radical change in manner and morals. People rejected anything "old fashioned," looking instead to what was current and up-to-date. "It was better to be modern - and everybody wanted to be modern - and sophisticated, and smart, to smash the conventions and to be devastatingly frank," Allen writes. "And with a cocktail glass in one's hand it was easy at least to be frank."

    Allen also writes about the Scopes "monkey trial" - challenging the teaching of evolution in schools - with a hint of humor that really captures the bewilderment of the locals: "It was a strange trial. Into the quiet town of Dayton flocked gaunt Tennessee farmers and their families in mule-drawn wagons and ramshackle Fords; quiet, godly people in overalls and gingham and black, ready to defend their faith against `foreigners,' yet curious to know what this new-fangled evolutionary theory might be."

    When my book arrived, it was obviously a bit tattered. My copy was from the 1964 reprint, so it looked a bit dated from what you expect from modern history books. The print was quite small and seemed intimidating when I first opened it. There is a 1997 and 2000 reprint available as well.

    But it turned out to be the most interesting read of any book I used for my research!

    Allen is witty, extremely intelligent, and has the unique perspective that can only be achieved by living through these events yourself.

    If you are a Roaring Twenties enthusiast, or only casually interested in the era, I highly recommend this book. It provided me with a wealth of information, and lots of snappy quotes that really added to my exhibition....more info
  • Great Reference
    This book is a wonderful source of information about the 1920s in the USA. It has lots of facts and makes them personal with anecdotes and the sort of details about daily life that textbooks omit. It was written shortly after the decade and still holds as one of the best sources of information about the decade....more info
  • Fantastic Book
    Its a shame most writers today do not possess such an impeccable vocabulary.

    Very well written....more info
  • Excellent reference
    I purchased this book mainly as research for a novel I am writing set in the time period. I expected to wade through a lot of tedious history but what I found was a great perspective of the era written just after it occurred. Insightful, packed with useful informatin, I couldn't have asked for a better guide through the roaring 20s....more info
  • Influential
    I remember reading this book some 30 years ago. I don't know where I got it from and I no longer have it but it has coloured my thinking about finance, morals, the markets, everything about modern day life in the late 20th and early 21st century ever since. It has all come around again but thankfully and hopefully economists now know more about the way that the financial world works and the present difficulties will not last as long as the previous one - it took WW2 to get the Western world back on its feet!...more info
  • Great Reference
    This book is a wonderful source of information about the 1920s in the USA. It has lots of facts and makes them personal with anecdotes and the sort of details about daily life that textbooks omit. It was written shortly after the decade and still holds as one of the best sources of information about the decade....more info
  • Only Yesterday
    I am doing some research for a novel set in the 1920's. This book is very helpful in giving a favor of what the people in this time were thinking and some of the major events in this time.

    Someone looking for a more serious work may wish to broaden their research a bit to get more depth....more info
  • Forgotten Disasters Again
    I have been reading a lot about the 20's for some time. Why is it that everybody mentions the Miami hurricane of 1926 but forgets the Tri-State tornado of 1925 and the Mississippi floods of 1927?

    Some 625 people were killed in the tornado. It remains the single most destructive tornado in our record books. The flood displaced over 700,000 people and continued for almost six months.

    Mr Allen has put together a fine narrative but it has some gaps. See...

    The Tri-State Tornado: The Story of America's Greatest Tornado Disaster

    And...

    Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

    Edit: May 2009 -- I was a bit ascerbic, eh? It is true, but it is also true that "Only Yesterday" best tells the story of this crazy decade. If you intend to read only one book about the 20's this is the one for you. If you've read a dozen this book will make it seem fresh and new.

    ...more info
  • Be Careful, folks
    It is mandatory that while you are reading this book you realize the time period that it was written in. I would take everything it says with a grain of salt, especially if it was something about women's history. Here is an actual quotation from the book:

    "The revolution [in manners and morals] was accelerated . . . by the growing independence of the American woman. She won the suffrage in 1920. She seemed, it is true, to be very little interested in it once she had it; she voted, but mostly as the unregenerate men about her did . . . Few of the younger women could rouse themselves to even a passing interest in politics: to them it was a sordid and futile business, without flavor and without hope. Nevertheless, the winning of the suffrage had its effect. It consolidated woman's position as man's equal"

    Obviously this was not true but the way it speaks of women is a good reflection of what was felt at the time. So do not read this as a reliable history text. Rather, read it as a book of its time so you can understand what was widely believed during that era. I would find a more recent and reliable book about that era to get the real facts. ...more info
  • A great reference on the 1920s!
    This is a great historical book, written shortly after the 1920s was over. It gives a great overall history of the 1920s in America. The author specifically focuses on the great bull market and how that eventually caused the Great Depression to occur. It's a great read, even if it was written shortly after the 1920s was over (sometimes historians have a greater bias the closer they are to an event they are writing about). I really enjoyed this book and if you are interested in this time period, you will enjoy it too....more info
  • A not so distant mirror...
    Frederick Lewis Allen's book on the 1920's was first published in 1931. His informal history of this time period has withstood the test of time. He identified and described the major events and trends in that decade, without the benefit of what historians like to call a "decent interval." His writing style is lively, with a keen ability to capture the essence of broad historical trends. Once again, as Faulkner so eloquently said: "The past is not dead; it is not even the past." So many elements of the `20's have parallels today, certainly the economic bubble that burst into the Great Depression, but also the use of foreign "threats" to reduce the constitutional liberties of Americans.

    Allen commences his book with the end of the "War to End All Wars," prior to the adding of a "I" after the "World War." Wilson lacked the support of the broad American people for his post-war initiatives, as they had a strong desire to return to "normalcy." Allen's chapter on "The Big Red Scare" is most illuminating, showing how readily government officials could use "fear" to void the Constitution. "It was an era of lawless and disorderly defense of law and order, of unconstitutional defense of the Constitution, of suspicion and civil conflict- in a very real sense, a reign of terror." (p39). "In Hartford, while the suspects were in jail the authorities took the further precaution of arresting and incarcerating all visitors who came to see them, a friendly call being regarded as prima facie evidence of affiliation with the Communist party." (p48). "Innumerable patriotic societies had sprung up... and must conjure up new and ever greater menaces. Innumerable other gentlemen now discovered that they could defeat whatever they wanted to defeat by tarring it conspicuously with the Bolshevist brush..." (p49).

    The author is equally strong examining the changes in morals. He relies heavily on the Lynn's excellent sociological work, "Middletown." Hemlines were shortened, and numerous state legislatures tried to pass laws specifying, by inches, how much female flesh could be exposed. It was also an era of endless political scandals, and much corruption, epitomized by the Tea Pot Dome scandal. Concerning the President of the United States, Allen says: "His liabilities were not at first so apparent, yet they were disastrously real. Beyond the limited scope of his political experience he was `almost unbelievably ill-informed,'.... His mind was vague and fuzzy. Its quality was revealed in the clogged style of his public addresses, in his choice of turgid and maladroit language.... It was revealed even more clearly in his helplessness when confronted by questions of policy to which mere good nature could not find the answer." He could easily be describing George W Bush, but is actually describing Warren G Harding. Although America's Imperial reach was just in its infancy, still: "Only occasionally did the United States have to intervene by force of arms in other countries. The Marines ruled Haiti and restored order in Nicaragua; but in general the country extended its empire not by military conquest or political dictation, but by financial penetration. (p146). It was also another era that pitted fundamentalist religion against science, and Allen does a good job of describing the forces behind the Scopes trial.

    Certainly one of the largest parallels was the increase in financial speculation that, as we know now, left at least a 10 year "hangover," and was only finally resolved by another "Great War." Allen devotes an entire chapter to the less well remembered real estate rush, and speculation in Florida. He also devoted a chapter to the more familiar stock market bubble and bust. "The market, as Max Winkler said, was discounting not only the future but the hereafter." And for those currently contemplating the sorry state of their "301k's", "It seems probable... that stocks have been passing not so much from the strong to the weak as from the smart to the dumb." (p269). And in his chapter entitled "Crash," another thought for our times: "Prosperity is more than an economic condition; it is a state of mind. The Big Bull Market had been more than the climax of a business cycle; it had been the climax of a cycle in American mass thinking and mass emotion." (p281)

    Overall, an excellent book for our times, now that we might have more time for the simpler pleasures, like reading.
    ...more info