CHAPEL HILL -- "Sweet are the uses of adversity," counsels Shakespeare in "As You Like It." Social psychological research tends to confirm the poet's observation, albeit with certain reservations. Untoward circumstances such as natural disasters may often stimulate individual competence and group cohesion; adversity may also, of course, produce panic and demoralization. Glen Elder's scrupulous and provocative account of the life course of people who were children during the Great Depression of 1929-1939, and came to maturity at the outset of World War II, offers a convincing story of survival, endurance and achievement.
Born in 1921, this sample of Oakland, Calif. residents experienced economic privation, some severe and some negligible, followed by military service for men and homefront coping for women. They then enjoyed the robust postwar economy. The men, notably, were advantaged in many cases by the higher education provided by the "G.I. Bill." This act was perhaps the single most effective piece of social legislation in American political history, simultaneously a boon to individual careers and a dramatic upgrading of the nation's supply of human capital.
This book was first published in 1974, and the present anniversary
edition proves that the study holds up remarkably well over a quarter of a
century. What was original then, and is still unfortunately uncommon today, is
the effort to link the particulars of individual lives to the vast currents of
historical change. Much psychological study continues to treat individual
behavior as if the person lived in an historical vacuum; many historical
narratives lose the individual in the sweep of massive forces. But here Glen
Elder takes seriously the injunction of C. Wright Mills to focus sociological
inquiry on the intersection of biography with history. Employing a
sophisticated, many-faceted approach, he situates the children (and their
fathers, mothers, and classmates) of the Depress
Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill