I kind of enjoy Rothbard’s writing, so I checked out his economic history of the Great Depression because I figured that he would have an interesting perspective as an economist.
I found America’s Great Depression lackluster compared to Rothbard’s other work. It’s a fine book and a herculean effort of scholarship, but it’s neither Man, Economy, and the State in its provision of economic details nor Conceived in Liberty in its flow and appeal. As an economic history it’s less concerned with people than the events that shaped the markets and economic crisis, so the dryness of the text is to be expected.
With that said, this was a book that kept my interest while I was going through it. That it wouldn’t be the first Rothbard book I recommend to people doesn’t change the fact that I wish I could force several politicians to read it. I’d be sinking to their level, but it might be worth it.
However, as someone who has a historical background I found that a lot of the major premises were already familiar to me. Some of this is from a lecture I believe drew upon Rothbard’s work among others’, but I believe that McClay’s Land of Hope (my review) includes some similar elements.
The number one thing that I gained from America’s Great Depression was Rothbard’s overview of the economists and theories that led to Hoover’s and FDR’s interventions in the economy.
An advantage that Rothbard has over the historical and economical analyses of the era I was already familiar with is that he can dissect these arguments in a way the historians can’t and that he provides a much more detailed picture than that offered by others.
While most people are familiar with the conflict between laissez-faire economics and command economies, Rothbard can draw connections and point out flaws that were lacking in other treatments of the era.
Rothbard also places an emphasis on the international economy’s currency supply, which adds an angle I have seen no other historian or economist approach.
He places little emphasis on Weimar Germany, which is where historians who look abroad during the Great Depression usually place their focus. Rather, he takes his most in-depth look at how Britain and France brought woe upon themselves with execrable monetary policy and fiscal mistakes.
Do I recommend America’s Great Depression? Not to the lay reader. Rothbard has other stuff, or you could even go with something like Hayek’s Road to Serfdom to get a good feel for many of the basic theories that Rothbard lays out here in a much more streamlined package.
However, as a text that has a very particular focus for a particular audience, I definitely recommend it. Even someone like me, who is just broadly interested in the subjects, can find some parts interesting without a burning passion for the overall level of depth and detail found in Rothbard’s treatment. It’s not as much of an obvious recommendation as Conceived in Liberty, which only has a couple small blemishes and its colossal size as a barrier to a clear recommendation.
I listened to America’s Great Depression on Audible (affiliate link). I didn’t notice any issues with the audiobook, though I would caution that there would probably be some added difficulty for people who aren’t already familiar with a lot of the concepts in trying to listen to the text as it is being read.