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Novels that take place during the Great Depression:
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Novels that take place in the 1930s:
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Novels that take place during the Dust Bowl »

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Mother Road
Dorothy Garlock
Managing a Depression-era garage in Oklahoma while his friend recovers from an animal bite, Yates finds himself falling in love with his friend's babysitter and housekeeper, who has scandalized the town by living with her employer.

The Lost Mother
Mary McGarry Morris
Enduring the Great Depression from within a tent during a Vermont summer, Henry struggles to support his two young children and considers a proposition from a wealthy neighbor, who would hire the children as companions for her homebound son.

Water for Elephants
Sara Gruen
When Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits, a second-rate circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town.

Empire Rising
Thomas Kelly
Follows the love story of an Irish immigrant and an artist told against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the construction of the Empire State Building.

The Girl in the Glass
Jeffery Ford
Seventeen-year-old Diego and master grifter Thomas Schell sail comfortably through hard times, scamming New York's grieving rich with elaborate, ingeniously staged séances -- until an impossible occurrence changes everything.

Hidden Places
Lynn N. Austin
A widowed mother of three is desperately trying to keep her family orchard from going under during the Great Depression.

Heir to the Glimmering World
Cynthia Ozick
Ozick takes us to the outskirts of the Bronx in the 1930s, as New York fills with Europe's ousted dreamers, turned overnight into refugees. Rose Meadows unknowingly enters this world when she answers an ambiguous want ad for an "assistant" to a Herr Mitwisser, the patriarch of a large, chaotic household.

Worthy's Town
Sharon Rolens
Beneath the quiet surface of life in Old Kane, Illinois, love, cruelty, murder, and friendship drive the destinies of Worthy and Willa Giberson and their boy Cappy in this novel spanning 1925 to 1950.

The Crazyladies of Pearl Street
An autobiographical novel about growing up poor in America during the Depression follows the life of six-year-old Jean-Luc, living with his little sister and young mother after being abandoned by his con artist father.


Compiled by Hildie Kraus

A Journey into Steinbeck's California
Susan Shillinglaw (Big Read speaker)
This part art book, part biography, and part travel guide offers insight into how landscapes and townscapes influenced John Steinbeck's creative process and how, in turn, his legacy has influenced modern California.

Tex[t]-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America
William A. Nericcio (Big Read speaker)
This sophisticated, innovative history of celebrity Latina/o mannequins in the American marketplace takes a quantum leap toward a constructive and deconstructive next-generation figuration/adoration of Latinos in America.

Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath
Richard Wartzman (Big Read speaker)
Wartzman uses the ban of Steinbeck's best-selling novel as a springboard to discuss the forces that led to it—forces that had more to do with politics than morality.

American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA
Nick Taylor
A history of FDR's New Deal looks at the origins of the Works Progress Administration in the dark days of the Great Depression, examining the politics and development of the WPA from 1935 to 1943 and assessing the legacy of the controversial program.

Dancing in the Dark
Morris Dickstein
Dancing in the Dark shows how our worst economic crisis, as it eroded American individualism and punctured the American dream, produced in the 1930s some of the greatest writing, photography, and mass entertainment ever seen in this country.

Daring to Look: Dorothea Lange's Photographs and Reports from the Field
Dorothea Lange was one of the most famous photographers of the 1930s. She traveled the country documenting the ravages of hard times; this book combines her pictures and her less well-known written work.

Dream Lucky: When FDR Was in the White House, Count Basie Was on the Radio, and Everyone Wore a Hat
Roxane Orgill
Orgill has put together a cultural history of FDR's reign, including all kinds of popular fashion, customs and arts.

Eleanor Roosevelt
Blanche Wiesen Cook
Blanche Wiesen Cook is the foremost biographer of Eleanor Roosevelt. Her magisterial two-volume biography is controversial; the first volume won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression
Amity Shlaes
This best-seller by a young historian has been extremely controversial; Shlaes posits that the policies of Hoover and Roosevelt actually prolonged the economic crisis of the 1930s.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom
Conrad Black
This book is controversial because of its author, publishing tycoon and historian Conrad Black. It's an idiosyncratic but thorough account of Roosevelt's life, legacy and politics.

From Ballots to Breadlines: American Women, 1920-1940
Sarah Deutsch
The two decades between the end of World War I and the lead-up to World War II were challenging for everyone in the United States; Deutsch focuses on the particular challenges and successes for women.

The Great Depression
David Burg
Burg compiles a history of the Great Depression, including the events that led up to it and the New Deal that followed, with chronologies, personal narratives, and documents.

Hard Times
Studs Terkel
This book is a collection of oral histories of the Great Depression, collected by Studs Terkel. It includes accounts from everyone from ditch diggers to doctors, and is a fascinating document.

Hard Times: The 30s
Time-Life offers the usual superb visual documentation of a painful but compelling decade.

The Hungry Years
T.H. Watkins
The Hungry Years analyzes Roosevelt's administration and its successes and failures in coping with the Great Depression.

Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929
Maury Klein
This volume is part of a series about pivotal moments in history - it covers the crash that precipitated the Great Depression.

The Worst Hard Time
Timothy Egan
Timothy Egan presents an oral history of the dust storms that devastated the Great Plains during the Depression, following several families and their communities in their struggle to persevere despite the devastation.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Arts Midwest.

The County of San Diego and the San Diego County Library disclaim any responsibility for the accuracy of the translations.