When I first plucked the book RFD off the shelf in the nonfiction section of our local library, I had no idea what a find I had stumbled across.
Charles Allen Smart was a Harvard-educated writer, a man who had taught at Choate in his early career, a romantic wanderer who traveled throughout Europe while penning novels. Everything changed when his elderly aunt left him two southern Ohio farms.
Farm life. In the foreword of this recently republished work, Gene Logsdon writes that he began reading this book with a huge chip on his shoulder, wanting, even planning, to dislike this man’s account of life on a farm.
“He had what seemed to me the hypocritical effrontery to declare himself a socialist while inheriting two capitalistic farms in Ohio and a nice chunk of capitalistic money – in the depth of the Great Depression when even a small inheritance was truly golden,” Logsdon observes.
It didn’t take long for Logsdon to change his mind, realizing that Smart was humbled by all that he did not know and all that he was open to learning and doing on the farms.
Bestseller. RFD became a bestseller when it was published in 1938, and has continued to be reprinted and sold in fairly high numbers as time marches on.
Logsdon says this is because “Charles Smart was one honest man, something that is hard to find anymore in nonfiction books, especially about rural life. You only get the truth in fiction, strange as that may seem. He confronts my mistrust of his background head on, discussing his inheritance in detail and worrying exceedingly about the injustices inherent in a system that not only allows the passage of unearned wealth from one generation to another, but the impossibility of avoiding such inheritance even if he wanted to.”
Future assessment. It is incredibly interesting to read Smart’s book with the realization that he was almost dead-on correct in his assessment of the future.
He worried that the small store owners might be run out by chains and he touched on the fact that discontent would surely come in America eventually as “entirely too many people have jobs that are both unsuitable to them and precarious. Trade unions are feeble, or crooked, or both… and plenty of people are strangled by installment buying.”
Football. He even worried that in the public schools “the football field seems to be considered generally more important than the library, and there is a multitude of silly activities… the government is expensive and inefficient.”
And this was written in 1938?