Arthur M. Schlesinger wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning series on "The Age of Roosevelt" almost a half-century ago. This volume is the middle volume of that trilogy, covering the period 1933-1935.
In assessing Roosevelt's role only a generation removed from the activity itself, Schlesinger chose to utilize Plutarch's approach of evaluating the man and his character to see how history developed.
Schlesinger takes into account much more than just Franklin Roosevelt; he looks at the supporting cast of the FDR administration as well. By evaluting primarily Roosevelt, his cabinet, and his advisors, Schlesinger has given us a fabulous biographical view into the decision making of the first few years of the New Deal era.
Schlesinger has opted to take a primarily topic based approach rather than a chronological approach to addressing the major issues faced by the administration during these years. The primary areas he looks at are agriculture, industry, economics, social relief, labor, conservatism, and the start of the "imperial" Presidency. By evaluating each of these topics using a person-based approach, the reader is able to garner an understanding of why the Roosevelt administration was so successful in its efforts to combat the fear prevalent in America at this time. When FDR told America in his first inagural address that "...the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." he truly meant that he wanted to make his administration an effort to conquer the concerns ravaging Americans.
By evaluating individuals rather than just events, Schlesinger has presented the reader with a biographical sense of why each initiative was undertaken, and that FDR was not afraid of "failure" - if an effort did not pan out, he simply discarded it and tried something different to solve the problem.
This book certainly is not about the long-term effects of the New Deal, nor does it give us tremendous background on all of the individual efforts of the Roosevelt administration to beat the Depression, but it isn't really meant to. The book accomplishes everything the author has set forth to achieve, and is a spectacular read.
"The Coming of the New Deal" is the second in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.'s trilogy, "The Age of Roosevelt". Covering the period of 1933-1934, it is a worthy successor to its predecessor, "The Crisis of the Old Order" (see my Amazon review).
This volume is organized by the various challenges faced. Separate chapters are allotted to agriculture, industrial planning, public works, the labor movement and the coalescence of opposition to FDR. The book ends with an assessment or Roosevelt's leadership style.
I read this in preparation for a continuing ed class on the New Deal and found it to be very helpful.
The New Deal was immediately faced with impending crises, including the imminent collapse of the banking system and a real risk of social revolution. The controversial remedies chosen to combat these are covered in some detail. This book provides the reader with an understanding of many of the New Deal projects, including the NRA, the PWA, CCC and the agricultural plans, which included the destruction of piglets and the plowing up of crops in times of famine. His initiatives on soil conservation and conservation mirrored those of his role model, Theodore Roosevelt.
The opponents of FDR, Al Smith, Huey Long and Fr. Coughlin are presented in their goals, tactics and the effect they had on the New Deal and the country.
FDR's political efforts in the 1934 election are examined and assessed. For all his success in building a Democratic majority, he was less successful in building a liberal majority. I was surprised to find that FDR had one of the highest veto totals up to his time.
The personnel with whom he dealt with including the cabinet, Vice-President John Nance Garner and Joseph Kennedy provide interesting insights into other prominent characters of his era.
Analyses of FDR and his practices by Schlesinger and others, including Oliver Wendell Holmes give the reader a depth of perspective in judging the most loved and hated of American leaders.
"The Coming of The New Deal" provides the reader with an in depth study of a crucial two years in American history. It is clearly written by a liberal and, to some extent, the bias shows. Despite that, this book is not an unmitigated paean of Roosevelt and does, I believe, convey a reliable record of the times. It is must reading for any student of the New Deal Era.