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What is the most interesting book you have ever read?

At the time of this survey the United States was smack in the middle of the Great Depression.  People were out of work and a large majority were out of hope.  Some people looked for a distraction from their despair.  The golden era of TV was still over a decade away and although FDR and his fireside chats gave some hope, most turned to books. But what kind of books do you turn to during such a helpless time?  This survey from 1937 wanted to know exactly that and below is what they found.

Winter 1937

During the tumultuous era of the Great Depression in the 1930s, many Americans grappled with economic hardship and a profound sense of despair. In this context, a survey conducted in 1937 sought to understand the reading preferences of individuals during such trying times. This survey sheds light on the books that provided solace, escapism, and intellectual stimulation amidst the challenges of the era.

Survey Findings

The survey revealed a diverse range of reading choices among respondents:

  • The Bible (26%): The enduring popularity of the Bible during the Great Depression underscores the significance of religion and spirituality as sources of comfort and guidance. The Bible’s timeless teachings resonated with individuals seeking meaning and solace amid economic adversity.
  • Gone with the Wind (22%): Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, published in 1936, captivated readers with its sweeping narrative set against the backdrop of the American South. The popularity of “Gone with the Wind” reflects a blend of historical interest, escapism, and the allure of a recent literary sensation.
  • Anthony Adverse (5%): Although less remembered today, “Anthony Adverse” by Hervey Allen was a literary phenomenon in the 1930s. This ambitious novel, spanning continents and generations, transported readers to distant locales and explored themes of ambition, love, and adversity.
  • The Good Earth (3%): Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Good Earth,” resonated with readers for its vivid portrayal of life in rural China and its exploration of themes such as poverty, perseverance, and the human connection to the land.
  • Various Others (44%): A significant portion of respondents favored other books not specified in the survey, reflecting the diverse literary tastes and interests of the reading public during the Great Depression.

Survey Analysis

The enduring popularity of the Bible during the Great Depression underscores the profound role of religion in providing comfort and solace during times of hardship. Economic instability may have heightened individuals’ inclination to seek spiritual guidance and existential meaning in religious texts.

“Gone with the Wind” emerged as a cultural phenomenon due to its recent publication and compelling narrative. The concept of “recency bias” likely influenced respondents’ choices, as the novel’s impact was fresh in their memory.

“Anthony Adverse” and “The Good Earth” exemplify the literary appetite for epic tales that transported readers to distant lands and eras. These novels resonated with readers seeking escapism and immersive storytelling amid the challenges of the Great Depression.

Themes of Inequality and Injustice

A common thread across these literary works is the exploration of themes related to inequality and injustice. The narratives reflected societal concerns about economic disparity, racial discrimination, and the human condition amidst adversity. These novels not only entertained but also challenged readers to confront uncomfortable truths about societal inequalities. They provided a platform for discussing issues of race, class, and gender dynamics that were often sidelined in mainstream discourse. The enduring popularity of these works underscores their ability to capture universal human experiences while shedding light on the need for social change and empathy.

Reflections on the Survey Today

The survey findings prompt reflection on how reading preferences have evolved over time. While the enduring popularity of the Bible remains a constant, shifts in literary tastes and cultural influences shape contemporary reading habits. Considering the impact of the Great Depression on reading preferences invites speculation on how the same survey might unfold in modern times, illuminating changing attitudes towards literature and spirituality.

In conclusion, the survey conducted during the Great Depression provides valuable insights into the reading habits and cultural preferences of the era. The enduring appeal of religious texts and compelling narratives reflects the human quest for meaning, connection, and escape during challenging times. These literary choices continue to resonate with themes that transcend generations, offering a window into the enduring power of literature amidst adversity.

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