THE HISTORY CLUB

A place for history teachers, students and enthusiasts

The American Jazz Age, Great Depression and New Deal Era
Reading Group

This is a friendly group of people interested in reading great books about the American Jazz Age, Great Depression and New Deal Era Period c.1920 to 1945. It covers the domestic aspects of World War II, not the foriegn aspects.

Please Read: Suggestions on how to Meaningfully and Constructively Participate in our History Reading Groups

Thank you for your interest.

Our Current Book and Reading

Current Book Reading Schedule Chapter and Week

  1. Chapter 1 - “You Cannot Make Your Shimmy Shake On Tea”

    Thought Questions
    - In what ways does Al Capone represent the mood of the roaring 20s?
    - How do the concepts of "power" and "grace" encapsulate the decade?

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Resource: Map of Wet and Dry States and timeline
  2. Chapter 2 - “The Rhythm Of Life”

    Thought Questions
    - How does the author connect Roaring 20s gangster culture with Jazz Age popular culture?

    Supplemental Listening (you will love Bessie Smith)
    Fats Waller - Ain't Misbehavin' (1929)
    Fats Waller & His Rhythm - Shortnin' Bread
    Bessie Smith (Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out, 1929) Jazz Legend
    St. Louis Blues - Blues Legend Bessie Smith's only film appearance. Uncut 1929
    Bessie Smith - Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer
    Bessie Smith - A Good Man is Hard to Find
    Bessie Smith - Yellowdog Blues
    Bessie Smith - I'm Wild About That Thing (1929)
    Bessie Smith - Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl (1931)

    Supplemental Reading
    Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s by Carol J. Oja

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Finish The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. Chapter 3 - Femme Fatale
    (femme fatale - :: a seductive woman who lures men into dangerous or compromising situations or :: a woman who attracts men by an aura of charm and mystery)

    Thought Questions
    - What were the characteristics of the "Flapper" of the 1920s?
    - In what ways was the "Flapper" mystique a precursor to feminism?
    - In what ways was the "Flapper" mystique a rejection of women's rights movement in the progressive era?

    Supplemental Reading
    Femme Fatale: Cinema's Most Unforgettable Lethal Ladies by James Ursini and Dominique Mainon

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Begin reading The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. Chapter 4 - “Five And Ten Cent Lusts And Dreams”

    Thought Questions
    - How does the author use Hollywood to illustrate the change and "newness" of the 1920s?
    - What are the characteristics of the early ear Hollywood film culture?

    Supplemental Reading
    Material Dreams: Southern California through the 1920s by Kevin Starr

    Supplemental Viewing
    The Gold Rush with Charlie Chaplin (1925)

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Continue reading The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  5. Chapter 5 - “My God! How The Money Rolls In”

    Thought Questions
    - How does the life and death of Warren Harding symbolize the culture of the Roaring 20s?
    - How did Florence Harding's public role in her husband's life compare and contrast with that of former first ladies?
    - How(?) was Calvin Coolidge involved with the core group around Harding?
    - How are Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover the antithesis of Harding and the Roaring 20s (keep this in mind as we continue reading)

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Finish reading The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  6. Chapter 6 - “The Business Of America Is Business”

    Thought Questions
    - What factors led to the development of mass consumer consumption?
    - How did mass produced consumer goods promote social and economic changes?
    - How did men and women participate in consumer culture differently?

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Begin The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  7. Chapter 7 - Fear Of The Foreign

    Thought Questions
    - How did Italian immigrant terrorism effect the United States?
    - In what ways was Italian immigrant terrorism political and in other ways economic?
    - What were the characteristics, motives and methods of anarchists in the United States?

    Primary Source
    - It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Continue The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  8. Chapter 8 - The Ku Klux Klan Redux

    Thought Questions
    - How was the second Klan formed and what were its purposes?
    - What were the characteristics of the second Klan?
    - In what ways did local conditions effect the way the Klan operated?
    - What role did religion play in the beliefs and actions of the Klan?
    - How did the Klan mix racial ideology with nationalism?

    Supplemental Viewing
    Birth of a Nation - 1915 (graphic content)
    Please be aware that some primary sources that we will be looking at will contain graphic content, often shocking and offensive (words that scarcely begin to describe the above film). History is not pretty, it is not politically correct and it is not intended to make anyone comfortable. I will try and label graphic content, I can understand not wanting to view things like this.

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Finish The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  9. Chapter 9 - In Exile
    (This is not my favorite chapter in an otherwise enjoyable book. If you prefer an alternative read The Waste Lands (free for Kindle) and the biography of T.S. Eliot and consider the American Literature book we start next: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis)

    Thought Questions
    - What purpose did the author have in telling the story of American Exiles in Europe?
    - How is the experience of Americans in European Exile related to Jazz Age American culture?
    - Who was F. Scott Fitzgerald?
    - Who was T.S. Eliot and how does his work "The Waste Land" relate to Jazz Age America?

    Articles
    T.S. Eliot Brief Biography
    F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography
    Zelda Fitzgerald Brief Biography
    Sinclair Lewis Brief Biography

    Primary Sources
    The Waste Land by T. S. (Thomas Stearns) Eliot
    Tales from the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Begin Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
    This is one of my favorite pieces of American literature. Its an enjoyable and intelligent book, quaint and flawed, but meaningful and something pleasant to read before falling asleep (some books can disturb sleep and are best read before bed).
  10. Chapter 10 - The New Yorker

    Thought Questions
    - What was(is) "The New Yorker" and how did it reflect and influence American culture?
    - How did the increase in the literacy level and the spread of information effect American life in the 1920s?
    - How is the anarchism of the previous generation reflected in the literature of the 1920s?
    - How did the literary world of the 1920s effect American views on gender roles and sexuality?
    - How did European ideas filter into American consciousness in the 1920s?

    Articles
    A New Yorker Timeline (from The New Yorker)
    Out Loud: Ninety Years Of The New Yorker

    Primary Sources
    Vanity Fair Magazine Archive (1913-1922) - University of Pennsylvania

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Continue Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  11. Chapter 11 - “Yes, We Have No Bananas Today”

    Thought Questions
    - How did the Klan exploit religion to advance their beliefs?
    - What was the "Scopes Trial" and its background?
    - What was the immediate cause of the trial and what were the broader implications?
    - How did American localism (when local interests play a strong role in a community in relation to broader organizations such as state or regional affiliations) play a role in the Scopes Trial?
    - Who was Williams Jennings Bryan and what was his background?
    - Who was Billy Sunday and what role did he play in American culture?
    - What was the immediate and long term effect of the Scopes Trial?

    Articles
    Brief Biography of William Jennings Bryan
    Brief Biography of Billy Sunday - Wheaton College
    The Scopes Trial (PBS)

    Primary Sources
    Text of the Closing Statement of William Jennings Bryan at the trial of John Scopes, Dayton, Tennessee, 1925
    Scopes Trial Transcripts and Expert Witness Statements

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Continue Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  12. Chapter 12 - The Spirit Of St. Louis

    Thought Questions
    - How was Charles Lindbergh and how was he involved in the beginning of aviation?
    - How was Charles Lindbergh's lifestyle and attitude symbolic of America in the 20s?
    - What role did the US Post Office play in advancing early aviation?

    Primary Sources
    Film: First Solo Transatlantic Flight: Charles Lindbergh, Spirit of St. Louis 1927 Newsreel

    Articles
    Brief Biography of Charles Lindbergh
    The Spirit of St. Louis
    The Spirit of St. Louis gives up some long-held secrets
    The Spirit of St. Louis - PBS
    Video: Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Spirit of St. Louis

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Continue Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  13. Chapter 13 - The Big Fight

    Thought Questions
    - Who was Jack Dempsey and how did he represent the ambitions of the generation of working class turn of the century Americans?
    - In what ways were the lives Jack Dempsey, Bessie Smith and F. Scott Fitzgerald similar?
    - How did boxing represent the social spirit of the Roaring 20s?
    - How did boxing represent the social reality of the Roaring 20s?
    - How did boxing represent the social change of the Roaring 20s?
    - In what ways was the spirit of boxing symbolic of the disconnect between the image and reality of the 1920s American life beyond issues of race, religion, gender and economic class?

    Primary Sources
    Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard- The Worst Beating in Boxing History - With Live Sportscaster Commentary
    Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney - The Long Count
    Jack Dempsey vs Bill Brennan

    Articles
    Brief Biography of Jack Dempsey

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    - Finish Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
  14. Chapter 14 - Crash

    Thought Questions
    - How did attitudes in the 1920s contribute to the crash at the end of the decade?
    - What warning signs of the 1929 crisis were ignored?
    - Describe the differences that urban and rural Americans experienced during the 1920s and their reaction to the crisis of 1929?
    - How did the international financial situation effect the 1920s in America?
    - Who was Andrew Mellon and what was his response to the crash and depression?

    Articles
    Brief Biography of Walter Chrysler and the early Chrysler corportation

    Supplemental American Literature Reading
    Mountain Interval by Robert Frost
    Echoes of the Jazz Age by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1931)

American Jazz Age, Great Depression and New Deal Era Group Reading List (World War II Other Than The Homefront is covered elsewhere)

  1. Anything Goes: A Biography of the Roaring Twenties by Lucy Moore
  2. The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 (2nd Edition) by William E. Leuchtenburg
  3. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy
  4. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
  5. Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent
  6. Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein
  7. A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II by Maury Klein
  8. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s by Lynn Dumenil
  9. The New Deal: A Modern History by Michael Hiltzik
  10. Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin
  11. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
  12. Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller
  13. Gangsters and Gold Diggers: Old New York, the Jazz Age, and the Birth of Broadway by Jerome Charyn
  14. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist
  15. Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 by George J. Sanchez

After the first books listed above we will select the next books we read from the list below. Provide us feedback and suggestions for our next book by clicking here.

To new the books on our reading list, please click here