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A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness—and a Trove of Letters—Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression, by Ted Gup Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,074 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Ted Gup Narrator: Mark Deakins Publisher: Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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An inspiring account of America at its worst—and Americans at their best—woven from the stories of Depression-era families who were helped by gifts from the author’s generous and secretive grandfather

Shortly before Christmas 1933, in Depression-scarred Canton, Ohio, a small newspaper ad offered $10, no strings attached, to seventy-five families in distress. Interested readers were asked to submit letters describing their hardships to a benefactor calling himself Mr. B. Virdot. The author’s grandfather, Sam Stone, was inspired to place this ad and assist his fellow Cantonians as they prepared for the cruelest Christmas most of them would ever witness.

Moved by the tales of suffering and expressions of hope contained in the letters, which he discovered in a suitcase seventy-five years later, Ted Gup initially set out to unveil the lives behind them, searching for records and relatives all over the country who could help him flesh out the family sagas hinted at in those letters. From these sources, Gup has recreated the impact that Mr B. Virdot’s gift had on each family. Many people yearned for bread, coal, or other necessities, but many others received money from B. Virdot for more fanciful items: a toy horse, say, or a set of encyclopedias. As Gup’s investigations revealed, all these things had the power to turn people’s lives around—even to save them.

But as he uncovered the suffering and triumphs of dozens of strangers, Gup also learned that Sam Stone was far more complex than the lovable retiree persona he’d always shown his grandson. Gup unearths deeply buried details about Sam’s life—from his impoverished, abusive upbringing to felonious efforts to hide his immigrant origins from US officials—that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A wonderful reminder that economic hardship can bring suffering but can also foster compassion and community.”

    Boston Globe

  • Selected for the November 2010 Indie Next List

Listener Reviews

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Review by Kathy Sarlog | 2/20/2014

    " The premise of this book is intriguing; the author focuses on the effects of an anonymous gift of $5 to 75 families during the height of the Great Depression in the city of Canton, Ohio. An ad was placed in the newspaper offering this gift, and the author locates and interviews the descendants of those who responded to the ad. These letters are fascinating, as are the memories that the descendants share, and I would have liked more of this and less of the author interpreting the details and making sweeping generalizations about the character of people and the times. Though I agreed with much the author suggested, I found his style heavy-handed and manipulative. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Review by Sharon | 2/20/2014

    " Wonderful, wonderful, well written, so thoroughly researched. History, genealogy. Students need to read this to understand the Great Depression and the effects on people living through it. Perhaps I understand my grandparents a little more. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Review by Nancy Brady | 2/18/2014

    " While, generally, nonfiction is not my choice of reading material, I found this book of stories about the events of the Great Depression to be very compelling. B. Virdot, an alias of Sam Stone (the grandfather of the author), put a small advertisement in the "Canton Repository" in December 1933. That small ad spawned letter upon letter that he answered with a check for five dollars (of the many he actually received, he chose to answer 150 of them.). Ted Gup, the author, obtained these letters nearly twenty-five years after his grandfather's death, and began to track down the families of the recipients. In so doing, he discovered the world of the Great Depression through the stories of these families. Further, he discovered and related the story (and subterfuges) of his grandfather's life, too. The book was very illuminating, and certainly explains so much of the frugality of the generations that lived through the "Hard Times". "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Review by Tina Redmond | 2/14/2014

    " A nonfiction book about the author's grandfather. He had done an act of kindness during the depression that only a few people knew about. The author found out after his grandfather had died and in researching it, found his grandfather had a past that only a few also knew about. Interesting stories of his grandfather's background, the depression and the families affected by the grandfather's act of kindness. "

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About the Narrator

Mark Deakins is an actor whose television appearances include Head Case, Star Trek: Voyager, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His film credits include Intervention, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Devil’s Advocate. He recently wrote, directed, and produced the short film The Smith Interviews.