In This Review

The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s
The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s
By Piers Brendon
Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, 832 pp

Those who worry about the fragility of today's world order should remember the nightmarish 1930s. In a masterful survey of that troubled decade, Brendon traces the political pathways of the great powers in the throes of economic collapse and social upheaval. This massive book also offers fascinating sketches of democrats and dictators struggling to cope with (or exploit) the enveloping economic misery. But the central drama is the rise of fascism, rooted in national humiliation and nourished by the everyday anger of common citizens. Mussolini's March on Rome in 1921, for example, revealed both fascism's absurdity and its potent possibilities in a world economic crisis. American and British leaders are depicted as practical and determined but lacking a coherent script. Brendon reminds the reader of an old insight: Illiberal politics lurk in the shadow of major economic recession. The Great Depression created something similar to the fog of war, allowing rulers to create myths and manipulate mass opinion. Although the author does not break new theoretical ground, he does give fresh meaning to the question of how enlightened political order and civility can be maintained in an economic meltdown.