A Depression Diary, Sotomayor's Style, An About-Face

Attorney Benjamin Roth i i

Man In Progress: Ohio attorney Benjamin Roth had a particular interest in how economies work — and he kept a day-by-day diary throughout the Great Depression. Tina Brown says that incremental chronicle of struggle is a singularly touching look at a story whose end we know — but Roth didn't. hide caption

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Attorney Benjamin Roth

Man In Progress: Ohio attorney Benjamin Roth had a particular interest in how economies work — and he kept a day-by-day diary throughout the Great Depression. Tina Brown says that incremental chronicle of struggle is a singularly touching look at a story whose end we know — but Roth didn't.

For Morning Edition's monthly feature "Word of Mouth," Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown shares with NPR's Steve Inskeep the three best things she has read lately.

The Great Depression: A Diary

Brown's first recommendation is an old story that still resonates today. The Great Depression: A Diary is a personal account of the economic disaster that took place in the 1930s.

The journal entries of Benjamin Roth, a lawyer from Youngstown, Ohio, have been resurrected and published by his son Daniel B. Roth.

"It's a blow-by-blow account from the point of view of a professional guy. Not a sort of a Dorothea Lange character from the real underclass, but just a regular, professional guy who, day by day, chronicled his reaction to this terrible depression that settled on the land," says Brown.

She says she found Roth's account fascinating because he, like many people suffering in the financial tumult of the past year, did not know what the next day would bring.

"Every diary is a mystery story to the person who's writing it," says Brown. "We're in the middle of our own mystery tour of this depression."

Number Nine

The article "Number Nine" in this week's New Yorker, about the most recent addition to the Supreme Court bench, is Brown's second recommendation. In it, New Yorker writer Lauren Collins details the people and experiences that influenced Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

"It's very three-dimensional. You really understand this woman at the end of the piece," says Brown.

Collins portrays Sotomayor as a tough woman who has never had anything handed to her.

Brown says the justice comes across as an "up-from-the-bootstraps woman who loves to bust out a poker game and knock back a scotch." But, Brown adds, she also comes across as meticulous, rigorous and heavily influenced by her mother, a nurse, who emphasized education above all else.

The article left Brown admiring Sotomayor's ability to write thoroughly, but plainly, in a way that could be understood by all people.

"Sotomayor is not a great prose styler, not a fancy-flourish merchant," says Brown. "She's not a person who's going to reinvent the philosophical approach to law, but she does believe that the law is to be understood by the common man in the street. And I think that there's a lot to be said for that, actually."

You Can't Bargain With Terrorists

Brown's final recommendation is for a recent article by attorney Gerald L. Shargel on her online news and opinion publication, The Daily Beast.

In the past, Shargel famously argued that even the most heinous terrorists should be represented in a court of law. After the Sept. 11 attacks he said in a television interview that he would be proud to represent Osama bin Laden, because it would demonstrate how America stuck to its values, allowing even a terrorist of his stature due process and a fair trial.

However, in his latest article, "You Can't Bargain With Terrorists," Shargel clarifies his stance. He says that he believes that there are too many risks in trying terrorists in civilian courts. Rather than seeing terrorists as criminals, he sees them as soldiers in an openly declared war against those whom they perceive to be infidels. So, Shargel advocates trying these individuals in the military court system.

"It's quite an about-face for Shargel, who is, you know, the ultimate defender of heinous criminals," Brown says.

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