21 May 2014

The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition: A New History of the Great Depression

Summary from Goodreads:
An illustrated edition of Amity Shlaes’s #1 New York Times bestseller, featuring vivid black-and-white illustrations that capture this dark period in American history and the men and women, from all walks of life, whose character and ideas helped them persevere.

This imaginative illustrated edition brings to life one of the most devastating periods in our nation’s history—the Great Depression—through the lives of American people, from politicians and workers to businessmen, farmers, and ordinary citizens. Smart and stylish, black-and-white art from acclaimed illustrator Paul Rivoche provides an utterly original vision of the coexistence of despair and hope that characterized Depression-era America. Shlaes’s narrative and Rivoche’s art illuminate key economic concepts, presenting the thought-provoking case that New Deal regulation prolonged the Depression.

The Forgotten Man reveals through striking words and pictures moving personal stories that capture the spirit of this crucial moment in American history and the steadfast character and ingenuity of those that lived it.

I, annoyingly but such is the life of a booknerd, haven't gotten around to reading Amity Shlaes's The Forgotten Man.  It's in the long-list of things to read but I just haven't made it there, yet, because the world is constantly shoving new and cool books under my nose.  Which is why the new graphic edition caught my eye - new, cool, and on-trend.  I've started reading more graphic novels so why not an adaptation for a work of history?  Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States has had an adaptation (haven't read it, yet).  How does a book that must deal in facts and figures work when you take away probably 75% of the words?  Can the pictures tell the story accurately?  I had an opportunity to read the DRC of The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition so I decided to give it a shot.

It works very, very well.  Shlaes and collaborator Chuck Dixon chose to give a frame to this history of the Great Depression - Wendell Wilkie, former exec of a ultilities company that was sold to the TVA, discusses the history and impact of the Great Depression with Irita van Doren, a literary editor and Wilkie's longtime companion, in 1940.  It was a way to "voice-over" dates and descriptions without making the character dialogue in the panels really awkward and reads well.  A few times the historical narrative jumped around and got a bit disjointed, but that did emphasize how confusing and contradictory New Deal policies and their makers could be.

The art work is beautiful.  Illustrator Paul Rivoche chose to use stark black and white drawings for the history sections with interspersed sepia-toned modern-set 1940 sections. The style looks vintage, which suits the historical period.  I have to call out a great rendering of Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph which is featured in the book.

This was a great experiment (for me) in seeing whether history could be told accurately using a graphic format.  I think it worked very well and it was very fun to read.  I even chose to spend an entire day at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., during a recent trip since I learned in the book that the collection was started when Andrew Mellon donated his collection (plus money for a building) in 1937. 

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher.

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