“The Perils of Prosperity 1914-32” by W. E. Leuchtenburg

The theme/ thesis of the book

“The perils of prosperity 1914-32” is the critical examination of the US in the period between 1914 and 1932. The book’s thesis is how the economic extremes of this period brought about problems. The writer argues that it was due to problems that caused the great depression. Below is the extract from the book

“[Between 1929 and 1932]…at the bottom of the Depression…General Motors plummeted from 92 to 8…Developments in the construction and automobile industries foreshadowed what was to come…[slower growth in] Auto manufacturing…after 1925…meant cutting back purchases of steel and other materials; the cycle of events, whereby an increase in car production stimulated the steel, rubber, glass, and other industries, now operated in a reverse manner to speed the country toward a major depression. By 1929, the automobile industry—and satellites such as the rubber-tire business—were badly overbuilt…By 1932, manufacturing output had fallen to 54 percent of what it had been in 1929…All the gains of the golden twenties were wiped out in a few months”. pp. 1914-32.

The above extract depicts how the decline of the motor vehicle industry negatively affected the broader United States economy during this period. The author further goes on to discuss what went on during this period, particularly on political and cultural development.


“The perils of prosperity” discusses how the United States changed from an agrarian country to a liberal democratic state. The book describes how the United States transformed itself to become a liberal democracy regardless of it being trapped in foreign affairs problems. The author depicts how events in this time mirror the differences in attitudes between those who lived in towns and the ones in the rural areas which reached its climax during the presidential campaign of early 1928.

The book particularly examines political and economic issues that led to this transformation. It also tackles social and cultural issues that influenced this transformation. The author introduces his theme by disclosing the circumstances that led to the United States’ entry into the First World War. From there, Leuchtenburg narrates the events that followed after she entered the war. The writer examines all important events that were influential to America’s transformation to be an industrialized and liberal country.

One key aspect which the author brings to our understanding is how the League of Nations was formed after the First World War come to an end. The writer also tells us of the work of the League of Nations whereby he argues that its key objective was to make sure that in the future war will not occur again. At that period, the League of Nations was seen as the solution to the world’s stability after the conflict as a result of the Versailles Treaty. The writer tells us that the United States entered the war because it was angered by how people had been killed in a region of the world that was supposed to be civilized. The writer tells us how the US thought that the solution to war conflict was to form a global organization with the key role of maintaining peace in the world and it was out of this thought that the League of Nations was born.

The other key event the author covers well is the Palmer Raids which started in late 1919. The writer narrates how these raids led to the killing of those who were opposed to government ideology as a result of the postwar Red Scare. The writer examines why the United States had to look for support after it entered the war. According to the writer the support was sought via propaganda whereby the president and the congress anticipating opposition from Americans enacted two acts namely the sedition and treason act. The writer discusses how communists’ political organizations started to usurp power after the war following the decline of the old dynastic families.

The writer examines the post-war Red Scare as a result of the rising fear of dissent. He goes on to point out at this time, there were numerous strikes especially from labor organizations as the country tried to go back to peace. The writer points out that the bomb explosions of 1919 reinforced the fact that the United States was ready to transform and become a liberal democracy. There were many aspects Americans learned from these raids. One key aspect that the United States learned from these events was that the country cannot stay as isolated as before and needed to cooperate with same-minded countries to develop.

The writer points out how Harding won his election whereby he argues that Harding’s election as the President was primarily as a call for the United States not to be part of the League of Nations. The Majority of United States citizens were not interested in the issues coming from outside countries and Harding took advantage of the American’s isolated attitude to win the election. Following the losses suffered in the war United States changed to become more conservative. The writer explores the angle that the majority of people never wanted anything from outside as they feared the repeat of war. According to the author, this led to the rejection of the League of Nations.

The writer discusses the Washington Conference during the presidency of Harding. The conference’s key aim was to lower the rising pressure from the East and control the other countries from possessing harmful weapons. The resolutions of the conference bore some fruits as they successfully restricted the naval armaments and also cooled down the pressure in the region of China.

In this book, the writer tells us that, following the fall of First World War ideologies, the United States stridently became more conservative, as most of the Americans tended to hate anything coming from foreigners. Dissents and those from foreign countries were sought for in the red scare whereas the resurgent K K K showed that the majority never wanted transformations. According to the writer, this led to more restrictions on those who wanted to come to America as well as foreigners who were already in the United States. This in essence led to cultural conflicts between Native Americans and the immigrants.

The writer points out that the resultant mass-consumption economy became the driving force of the prosperity of the post-war period. The industries especially automobiles changed the economy profoundly and also changed Americans’ lives. He also points out that radio and television seriously transformed the American’s popular culture as well as their attitudes.

The writer also examines the Scopes trial of 1925. He argues that this event mirrored the various cultural conflicts following the period after the First World War. He maintains that the trial of the century led to the survival of the American culture. The writer tells us that fundamentalism as well modernism brought a hot debate among Americans during this period and this significantly changed how Americans lived with immigrants.

Biases detected

The book is balanced coverage of America in prosperity. This is because it provides a lot of data on the development of the United States during this period. The biases I have detected are some parts about politics (political stories on President Harding) which found not relevant to me. However, To me, the book provides a balanced examination of what led to these transformations in America, and I do not see any gap in its coverage.

My opinion

This book is very important for all those who are interested in understanding the United States’ prosperity. The book tells more of what led Americans to advance economically in the 1920s. “The Perils of Prosperity “can be regarded as a very critical examination of America between 1914 and 1932. Its main emphasis is on how the economic excesses of this period led to challenges which brought about the great economic downturn. Nevertheless, this piece of work examines the advancements in American society and culture. In a nutshell, the book illustrates how prosperity comes with many challenges.

According to my this is a compressive analysis highly debated period in American history. The book gives special attention to the roles of women and marginalized in the great transformations of the period. In this work, the writer provides his audience with a rare chance to enjoy the well-thought analysis of an American scholar who has come back to the story and seen how recent decades have increased meaning and vibrancy to this era of our history.

I think that the author has achieved his purpose. This is because after going through the book we get to understand the political and economic issues that led the US to change from an isolated state to a liberal democratic state. Reading through the book you also get to understand the social and cultural issues that influenced this transformation.


Leuchtenburg, William. Perils of prosperity 1914-32. Chicago,University of Chicago Press,1958.

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