Carolyn Kellogg reviews Ted Gup's A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness–And a Trove of Letters–Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression. The book centers on the author's grandfather, who solicited letters from those in need and then mailed them $5 checks:

The letters, many of which are reproduced in full, are snapshots telling desperate stories their authors would later downplay or deliberately forget. “We do not own a home here, nor furniture, tho we once did,” wrote Edith Saunders. “Recently we were unable to pay any rent for five weeks and were ordered to move.” ...

The necessary grimness of these true stories is leavened by the long view the septuagenarians who remember the local amusement park, the boy who grows up to fight bravely in World War II, the grandchildren safe from want. ...

The letters, Gup writes, “reminded me of the difference between discomfort and misery, between the complaints of consumers forced to rein in their spending and the keening of parents whose children went hungry night after night.” They also show that a gesture of generosity can deliver, along with small relief, good fortune that rings with hope.

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