About A Secret Gift: How One Man’s Kindness – and Trove of Letters – Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression
• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Publisher: The Penguin Press HC (November 1, 2010)
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 75 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 75 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 re-created 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 U.S. officials-that help explain why he felt such a strong affinity to strangers in need. Drawing on his unique find and his award-winning reportorial gifts, Ted Gup solves a singular family mystery even while he pulls away the veil of eight decades that separate us from the hardships that united America during the Depression. In A Secret Gift, he weaves these revelations seamlessly into a tapestry of Depression-era America, which will fascinate and inspire in equal measure.
About Ted Gup
Ted Gup was born and raised in Ohio, where his ancestors first settled some 150 years earlier. Since August, 2009, he has been Professor and Chair of the Department of Journalism at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts. Gup is the author of two previous books: Nation of Secrets: The Threat to Democracy and the American Way of Life (2007), winner of the Shorenstein Book Prize from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and the bestselling The Book of Honor: Covert Lives And Classified Deaths At The CIA (2000).
A former investigative reporter for The Washington Post and Time magazine, he was the Shirley Wormser Professor of Journalism at Case Western Reserve University from 1999-2009. Gup has also taught at Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He has been a guest on numerous television and radio news programs and has written for a wide range of publications, including Smithsonian, National Geographic, The New York Times, Boston Globe, Slate, Salon, GQ, Mother Jones, Columbia Journalism Review, Newsweek, USA Today, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others.
Gup has been a Pulitzer finalist and recipient of numerous awards, including the George Polk Award. He has been a grantee of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a Fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a Fulbright Scholar. He and his wife live in Boston, Massachusetts and Bucksport, Maine.
Ted Gup’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS
Monday, November 15th: Debbie’s Book Bag
Monday, November 29th: That’s What She Read
Tuesday, November 30th: Book Reviews by Molly
Wednesday, December 1st: I’m Booking It
Monday, December 6th: Care’s Online Book Club
Wednesday, December 8th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Monday, December 13th: Rundpinne
Thursday, December 16th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Friday, December 17th: Reading on a Rainy Day
Wednesday, December 22nd: In the Next Room
Tuesday, December 28th: Knowing the Difference
Rose May Johnson says
My mother was one of those people who sent letters. Edith May. I believe you have contacted my sister Felice Dunn in Bowerston Ohio. This is very interesting to me and I would like to have a copy of the letter.
Dudley Hafner says
What a gift. “A Secret Gift” blows me away. At 75 I still remember as a very young child the life we lived. No lights, bathing in a wash tub, and on and on. But my mother still took meals to the train tracks. In 1953 I was the first member of the family to graduate from HS and certainly the first to attend college in a family of seven children..four which were born in the mid twenties. Get Mr. Gup on more shows so that today can be placed in context with the 30s.