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Freedom from Fear: The American People in…

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (original 1999; edition 2010)

by David M. Kennedy, Tom Weiner (Reader)

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903119,768 (4.23)68
Title:Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
Authors:David M. Kennedy
Other authors:Tom Weiner (Reader)
Info:Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010), Edition: MP3CD Unabridged, MP3 CD
Collections:Your library, Electronic
Tags:Kindle, history, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, Depression, WW2, FDR, Hoover, Churchill, Stalin, Truman, read in 2012, 1990s

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Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy (1999)


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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Freedom from Fear won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in history. It is a 900 page tome that is essentially two books, The Depression and The War. I decided to read it as a comparison to Amity Schlaes' The Forgotten Man (my review).

As far as The Depression goes, Schlaes' treatment is much deeper and more detailed, including the 1920s context and the personal histories and travels to the USSR of FDR's "braintrust." Kennedy skips or glosses over certain crucial details of the New Deal that Schlae's emphasizes, like the critical Schechter case. However, Kennedy does a good job explaining how the New Deal had to be mostly undone to fight World War II. He also does a better job integrating the important of international events on FDR's decision-making in the later 30's.

Overall, I don't find many contradictions to Schlaes' treatment of FDR and the New Deal, which is remarkable given how much the Left has poo-poohed Schlaes' account. FDR comes across as inexperienced, contradictory, weak in negotiations, and not very literate ("None of his advisers ever knew him to read a book) in both accounts-- quite different from the adoration he receives today. The New Deal was more about more fair redistribution than economic stimulation, which is why the restrictions it put on free enterprise had to be let go to allow businesses to produce the war machine.

FDR's decision to take the U.S. off the gold standard was the greatest economic boost. His sudden determination to raise taxes and reduce the deficit helped cause the 1938 recession for which he almost faced a tough re-election.

Kennedy does a good job giving a play-by-play overview of World War II, including many details revealed by recent research; that's quite laudable. FDR's ill health and failings at Yalta are detailed. Kennedy does a decent job giving some home-front industrial policy and statistics throughout the book, including WWII, but I think fails to capture the sociology of the American people during the War years. He does look at certain aspects, such as internment camps, and the role of women (and their eagerness to get back to homemaking according to multiple surveys-- something that is forgotten about the 1940s by many modern talking heads).

In all, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. It's not great as a detailed account of both periods, but is a very good overview of both. ( )
  justindtapp | Jun 3, 2015 |
This general history of America in the Depression and WW2 was detailed enough to be informative. I must admit to skimming the actual war years. I found the depression and the build-up to the war to be most interesting. ( )
1 vote gbelik | Feb 18, 2014 |
This book, covering the years 1930-1945, is a worthy entry in the splendid Oxford History of the United States (of which Mr. Kennedy is the current editor). This book is magisterial in scope, and is as balanced as is possible, in a volume covering so many issues that are still highly contentious today. This is not a quick read -- it is an overview of the history of the period, approaching that period from a variety of viewpoints; political, historical, social, and cultural. That adds up to an enormous amount of material, but Mr. Kennedy's vivid prose style and gift for storytelling makes it far more enjoyable that the phrase "historical survey" usually suggests. As to balance, Mr. Kennedy presents his major characters as rounded individuals with good and bad character traits, who made both good and bad choices. I had not realized, for example, that Herbert Hoover's policies in so many ways foreshadowed FDR's, nor had I realized just how scatter-shot the New Deal really was. For those who want to learn more about this period, during which so many of our current political issues find their roots, this book is very strongly recommended. ( )
1 vote annbury | Feb 28, 2013 |
In "The Ordeal of Franklin Roosevelt," Kennedy tracks the FDR court packing attempt with great skill and grace. In contrast to Brinkley, however, he is less interested in the ways in which the weakening of Roosevelt's power leads to a crisis of confidence in the administration than he is in showing the results of the President's move in the congress and it's broader impact on the Democratic coalition. FDR's "Seven Little TVAs" proposal in the special legislative session in November was met with a "Conservative Manifesto" in which the powerful conservative Southern bloc defied FDR's which Kennedy sees as the birth of the modern Conservative movement.

by the late 1930s the New Deal had begun to alter the scale of federal institutions and extend the reach of federal authority. This emergence of a large, interventionist government, accomplished in an atmosphere of crisis by a series of aggressive presidential initiatives, now began to provoke a powerful though not yet fully coherent conservative counterattack. The crystallization if this new conservative ideology, as much as the New Deal that precipitated its articulation, was among the enduring legacies of the 1930s. (p. 341)

FDR provoked the wrath of powerful Southern Democrats for whom the race issue was paramount. A too strong federal power endangered segregation, especially when that federal government was headed by a Northerner. The battle lines were drawn over the revival of Anti-lynching legislation provoked by the grisly murders in Duck Hill Mississippi. Fears of a new Reconstruction united Southern opposition in the Senate where the bill was withdrawn in the face of Southern Democratic filibuster in February 1938. FDR did little to revive this bill.

The last piece of New Deal legislation which FDR signed in 1938 was the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which outlawed child labor, set the minimum wage at 40 cents and mandated the forty-hour week. As a concession to powerful Southern interests, this bill had been stripped of its protections for agricultural and domestic workers. Emerging with the minimum wage provision for industry in tact, the bill was seen by the South as a direct attack on the viability of their industry, which relied on cheap labor to remain profitable. FDR, along with a small band of Southern Liberals (including LBJ), saw this a a way to force the South to modernize its industry.

FDR took the Southern strategy even further. He went south to Dixie to campaign for liberals in the congressional elections of that year. FDR did not secure the election of liberals in the South in 38, instead he provoked the wrath of Southern Democrats who branded him a latter day "carpet bagger." In 38, HUAC under Martin Dies investigated communists in labor and in New Deal Programs. The New Deal was clearly under siege. At the height of all this, Harry Hopkins uttered the ill-fated phrase: "We shall tax and tax, and spend and spend, and elect and elect." (p. 349)

Kennedy cover much of the same ground as Brinkley when discussing the ideological debate within the New Deal administration which the economic crisis provoked. The New Dealers may have differed from one another over how the government would solve the crisis, but they all believed that government was the solution and not the problem. Winning the "intense ideological struggle" which Brinkley identified over the soul of the New Deal would not be worth much, since the New Deal was then its death throws. The end of reform came, not as an ideological accommodation but as the acceptance of political reality. Given the conservative opposition, structural reforms were politically impossible. FDR vacillated by pursuing contradictory policies in a half-hearted way. Thurmond Arnold in the anti-trust division and anemic government spending was a far cry to Kennedy's mind from the wholehearted adoption of Keynesianism. Interestingly enough, Keynes was urging FDR to pursue public housing as the spur to a new economic boom. It would be the adoption of this as a veteran's benefit in the post-war years that would fuel the rush to suburbia. For now, however, FDR was a badly weakened leader facing conservative opposition at home while the storm clouds of fascism gathered on the horizon.

"What the New Deal Did" was to provide security at home through the establishment of the modern welfare state. "Into the five years of the New Deal was crowded more social and institutional change than into virtually any comparable time in the nation's past." (p. 363) But the New Deal had a "mongrel intellectual pedigree" and it neither seriously redistributed income nor established government control over industry. The one consistent theme to the mad improvisation of the New Deal was security. According to Kennedy the "pattern could be summarized in one word - security". This security was

security for vulnerable individuals, to be sure, as Roosevelt famously urged in his campaign for the Social Security Act of 1935, but security for capitalists and consumers, for workers and employers, for corporations and farms and homeowners and banks and builders as well. Job security, life cycle security, financial security, market security -- however it might be defined, achieving security was the leitmotif of nearly everything the New Deal attempted. (p. 365)

By initiating financial reform in banking, FDR ensured the further health of capitalism. He separated investment from savings institutions, established the FDIC to ensure bank deposits, and set up the SEC with Joseph Kennedy at its head. Astutely (if ironically) the SEC, with its reporting requirements opened up investment information, broke the power of insiders which in the closed financial world of the 1920s had made rich men of insiders like Joe Kennedy, Sr. FDR also stabilized and regularized the housing market by setting up the FHA. This framework laid the foundation for the post-war housing boom. This regulatory regime was not put in place to destroy capitalism, but rather to strengthen it. The structural changes which the New Deal made to American government from 1933-1938 was a lasting legacy of reform. The New Deal's structural reforms made the post-war boom possible. Though he did not attack racial in-equality head-on (he had neither the temperament nor the political chops to do it), he did set in place the federal regularly state which would make possible the legal gains of the Civil Rights movement. The New Deal was thus a necessary precondition to the rights revolution in the second half of the 20th Century.
1 vote mdobe | Jul 24, 2011 |
There are two things you should know before reading this book. The first is that it is a very thorough history of the period, and as such, a fairly long book that requires a serious commitment. The second is, as other reviewers have noted, there is very little about the people beyond statistics and a few anecdotes. Rather, this is a comprehensive textbook of American history from the Great Depression to the end of World War II, and as such, FDR gets a lot of air time.

That said, it is an excellent history that can serve both as a reference work and a debate-sparker. Certain passages are simply outstanding, such as the Japanese resettlement; a few are boring, such as the two barrages of economic statistics that appear in the early and late parts of the book. Much of the story has been told in many other works; still, Kennedy has to be given credit for writing some of the events in a way that makes them seem fresh and interesting (Pearl Harbor, for instance). There are of course new facts from the research, but what makes the book special is Kennedy's ability to synthesize fact, event and human impulse into valid interpretations of truth.

So, if you are entirely unschooled in the period, this is a must-read. If you have read a great deal of American history, you may find yourself wanting to skip certain passages that reveal little anything you do not already know. I fall into the latter category, but I still enjoyed the book as a masterpiece of a fine historian. ( )
1 vote robertmorrow | Mar 11, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David M. Kennedyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Woodward, C. VannIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lynch, Kathleen M.Cover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0195144031, Paperback)

You can think of Freedom from Fear as the academic's version of The Greatest Generation: like Tom Brokaw, Stanford history professor David M. Kennedy focuses on the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War and how the American people coped with those events. But there the similarities end--and, in terms of the differences, one might begin by noting that the historian's account is over twice the size of the journalist's.

Whereas Brokaw made use of extensive interviews, Kennedy relies on published accounts and primary sources, all meticulously footnoted. This academic rigor, however, does not render the book dull--far from it. Certainly the subject matter is interesting enough in its own right, but Kennedy offers attention-grabbing turns of phrase on nearly every page. He also unleashes some convention-shattering theses, such as his revelation that "the most responsible students of the events of 1929 have been unable to demonstrate an appreciable cause-and-effect linkage between the Crash and the Depression" and his subsequent argument that, although it made order out of chaos, the New Deal did not reverse the Depression--that, he says, was the war's doing. All in all, Freedom from Fear compares favorably to its companions in the multivolume Oxford History of the United States in both its comprehensive heft and its vivid readability. --Ron Hogan

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:48 -0400)

"Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. Freedom from Fear tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities."--Jacket.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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