January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

edited by Ann Banks

These “life-story narratives” gathered dust in the Library of Congress for 40 years before they were uncovered by Banks, a Boston College historian. More than 10,000 were collected on a Federal Writers’ Project grant during the Depression by then unknown authors like Saul Bellow, Muriel Rukeyser and Richard Wright, and this is an anthology of the 80 most compelling. Among those profiled are a Chicago stockyard worker, a Vermont kootch dancer, an Oregon miner and a North Carolina tobacco auctioneer. Studs Terkel’s best-seller about the 1930s, Hard Times, covered some of the same territory, but his interviews were 30 years after the fact. These revealing testaments profit from their immediacy and should give even the most cynical reader a few flashes of national pride. (Knopf, $13.95)

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