BookThink Special Report


The Great Depression

by Craig Stark

2 March 2009

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Why History Matters in Bookselling

There's no question that a comprehensive knowledge of history is a great asset for a bookseller. There are many reasons why, but perhaps one of the more important (and obvious) ones is that it empowers your instincts when scouting, enabling you to snag books that have value because they address or are contemporaneous with important historical events, people, periods, etc.

But knowing history can help you in other, less obvious ways as well. Everybody, I guess, has heard more times than once the expression "history repeats itself." And indeed it does. Essentially, history is a never-ending story of pretty much the same events cycling over and over and over again; in fact, educators often point out that history should be studied so that we don't repeat it.

And, for the most part, a fat lot of good that does. One of the more vivid memories I have of my college years was a rather animated statement in class (and I think a fist coming down on a lectern was involved) uttered by an economics professor that we would never, ever go through another depression because there were safeguards in place that were woefully missing on Black Thursday, 1929. Technically, of course, he's still right, but there aren't many among us now who don't acknowledge that another depression is very much possible because those so-called safeguards didn't really get at the cause, only at the mechanism.

Recognizing that history is cyclical and keeping your eyes open for present-day manifestations of history repeating itself can be profitable. I have no idea who the politician (or public figure) was who first uttered the word "depression" when describing the current economic meltdown, but, whoever it was, it could have been your wake-up call right then and there if you'd trained yourself to look for these things.

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Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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