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The WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas

Federal Writers' Project of the Work Projects Administration

New introduction by James R. Shortridge

xxxiv, 540 pages, illustrated, 6 x 9
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-0249-0, $19.95

Book Cover ImageThe WPA Guide, the first and only guidebook ever devoted to Kansas, was published in 1939. After six decades and more, its pages still provide a wealth of reliable historic, geographic, and cultural information on Kansas, as well as some intriguing lore that many modern-day readers will find new. Not the least of its contributions is the accurate picture it gives of Kansas between the Great Depression and World War II--of its industrial, agricultural, and natural resources.

The book is divided into three sections: seventeen topical essays covering subjects such as Indians, folklore, religion, and architecture; touring information of the eighteen largest Kansas cities and towns; and twelve automobile tours spanning Kansas and border states. Included are eighty photographs, four maps, and an essay on the "contemporary scene" by William Allen White.

"Written in grim times, and years in the making, [the WPA guides] were nonetheless infused with quiet pride and some sense of the astonishing richness and variety in this nation, and some sense of what it could be. Twentieth-century America is a good deal more comprehensible because of them."--Edwin Newman, former NBC News correspondent and author of Strictly Speaking

"A magnificent time capsule . . . fascinating, eye-opening, intriguing. This book is special. Its 538 pages add up to far more than a simple road guide. It is a richly detailed portrait of Kansas. Looking through it, a reader immediately discovers how different the Kansas of 1984 is from the Kansas of 1939, and how much alike. [It contains] a thoughtful and candid review of the state by theme. . . . But the real delight of the guide, the part of the book most essentially Kansas, is the section of auto tours that crisscross the state. The thirteen tours describe hundreds of hidden places, the fascinating yet little-known sites where the past is still vividly present. Armed with a modern Kansas map, it's easy enough for a traveler to retrace the tours. [This is] the best work of its kind."--Wichita Eagle and Beacon

"Almost anyone could enjoy looking through this book. It gives the facts, but more importantly, the flavor of Kansas nearly a half century ago."--Manhattan Mercury

". . . still fascinating after forty-five years. This book . . . is 'good stuff'"--James Fisher, Kansas City Times

"A fantastic travel companion."--KMAN Radio, Manhattan

"A treasure trove for information-seekers. [The book] cuts through the romantic haze of allusions of 'the good old days' and enables readers to recapture that 'elusive sense of place' that confronts shaky perception with reality."--Kansas City Star

"Don't travel the blue highways of Kansas with out it."--William Least Heat-Moon, author of Blue Highways

JAMES R. SHORTRIDGE is a professor of geography at the University of Kansas. Among his other books are Our Town on the Plains: J. J. Pennell's Photographs of Junction City, Kansas, 1893–1922, Peopling the Plains: Who Settled Where in Frontier Kansas, Kaw Valley Landscapes: A Traveler's Guide to Northeastern Kansas, and The Middle West: Its Meaning in American Culture, winner of the John Brinckerhoff Jackson Prize.

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