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

by David M. Kennedy

Other authors: Kathleen M. Lynch (Cover designer), C. Vann Woodward (Introduction)

Series: The Oxford History of the United States (9)

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1,2761311,249 (4.25)70
Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. In a single volume the author tells how America endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities. He demonstrates that the economic crisis of the 1930s was more than a reaction to the excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before the Crash, America's unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, consuming capital and inflicting misery on city and countryside alike. Nor was the alleged prosperity of the 1920s as uniformly shared as legend portrays. Countless Americans eked out threadbare lives on the margins of national life. Roosevelt's New Deal wrenched opportunity from the trauma of the 1930s and created a lasting legacy of economic and social reform, but it was afflicted with shortcomings and contradictions as well. The author details the New Deal's problems and defeats, as well as its achievements. Yet, even as the New Deal was coping with the Depression, a new menace was developing abroad. Exploiting Germany's own economic burdens, Hitler reached out the disaffected, turning their aimless discontent into loyal support for the Nazi Party. In Asia, Japan harbored imperial ambitions of its own. The same generation of Americans who battled the Depression eventually had to shoulder arms in another conflict that wreaked worldwide destruction, ushered in the nuclear age, and forever changed their way of life and their country's relationship to the rest of the world. In the second installment of the chronicle, the author explains how the nation agonized over its role in the conflict, how it fought the war, and why the U.S. emerged victorious, and why the consequences of victory were sometimes sweet, sometimes ironic. The author analyses the determinants of American strategy, the painful choices faced by commanders and statesmen, and the agonies inflicted on the millions of ordinary Americans who were compelled to swallow their fears and face battle as best they could.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Another Oxford History of the US entry, this one covers the Great Depression and World War 2. Those are the decades that fundamentally changed America in a way that will probably never happen again - we have grown too big, too complacent, and though reading through the section on the start of the Depression will have you punching walls in frustration at how little people seem to have learned, it seems like against all odds maybe we have retained a tiny bit about the value of a safety net and the dangers that can result from corruption and poor policy. I wouldn't say that the part about World War 2 is definitive in the same way that McPherson's volume on the Civil War is definitive, but it certainly tries to cover as much as it reasonably can. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
NA
  pszolovits | Feb 3, 2021 |
A captivating history of the Great Depression and WWII from the United States' perspective. Insightful comments on many of the most controversial aspects of the period. ( )
  MichaelC.Oliveira | Jul 29, 2018 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David M. Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lynch, Kathleen M.Cover designersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Woodward, C. VannIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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This book is for Ben, Bess, and Tom qui laetificant vitam meam.
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(Prologue) The Great War ended on November 11, 1918.
Like an earthquake, the stock market crash of October 1929 cracked startlingly across the United States, the herald of a crisis that was to shake the American way of life to its foundations.
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Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. In a single volume the author tells how America endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities. He demonstrates that the economic crisis of the 1930s was more than a reaction to the excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before the Crash, America's unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, consuming capital and inflicting misery on city and countryside alike. Nor was the alleged prosperity of the 1920s as uniformly shared as legend portrays. Countless Americans eked out threadbare lives on the margins of national life. Roosevelt's New Deal wrenched opportunity from the trauma of the 1930s and created a lasting legacy of economic and social reform, but it was afflicted with shortcomings and contradictions as well. The author details the New Deal's problems and defeats, as well as its achievements. Yet, even as the New Deal was coping with the Depression, a new menace was developing abroad. Exploiting Germany's own economic burdens, Hitler reached out the disaffected, turning their aimless discontent into loyal support for the Nazi Party. In Asia, Japan harbored imperial ambitions of its own. The same generation of Americans who battled the Depression eventually had to shoulder arms in another conflict that wreaked worldwide destruction, ushered in the nuclear age, and forever changed their way of life and their country's relationship to the rest of the world. In the second installment of the chronicle, the author explains how the nation agonized over its role in the conflict, how it fought the war, and why the U.S. emerged victorious, and why the consequences of victory were sometimes sweet, sometimes ironic. The author analyses the determinants of American strategy, the painful choices faced by commanders and statesmen, and the agonies inflicted on the millions of ordinary Americans who were compelled to swallow their fears and face battle as best they could.

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