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ISBN-13: 978-0871404503
ISBN-10: 0871404508
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Surveying the Democratic Party’s control of the federal government from 1933 to 1953, Katznelson embarks not on a history of the New Deal per se but, rather, on an assessment of the limits placed on it by opposition in Congress. His work accordingly analyzes the voting scorecards for numerous acts of legislation, focusing intently on the influence of southern Democrats on political outcomes. Initially stalwart supporters of Roosevelt’s economic liberalism, southerners’ enthusiasm waned as they perceived the challenges to the social order of racial segregation posed by various proposals; by the late 1930s, they had essentially stopped further expansion of the New Deal. However, WWII revived New Dealers, whose wartime proposals for economic planning and fair employment Katznelson recounts through their legislative fates under the continuing influence of southern Democrats. Positing that the New Deal preserved liberal democracy, but at the expense of compromises with illiberal forces, Katznelson’s hefty history weighs other historians’ interpretations of the New Deal as it knowledgeably advances its own. --Gilbert Taylor


All of Fear Itself is suffused with the same sense of pure terror during the Roosevelt and Truman years as, say, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. It’s easy to forget not just how dangerous the situation was, at home and abroad, during the New Deal, but how palpable were outcomes far worse than what we got…[Katznelson] has done something remarkable in Fear Itself in creating a large-scale, densely detailed tableau of the New Deal that feels fresh and unfamiliar. (Nicholas Lemann - New York Review of Books)

Fear Itself is a monumental history of the New Deal’s greatest paradox, its connections with the Jim Crow South. Combining historical nuance with his clear eye for the big picture, Ira Katznelson contributes one of the most trenchant accounts yet of American liberalism at the height of its power in the 1930s and 1940s―a book of major importance in understanding our own political distempers and opportunities. (Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln)

A powerful argument, swept along by Katznelson’s robust prose and the imposing scholarship that lies behind it. (Kevin Boyle - New York Times Book Review)

Fear Itself deeply reconceptualizes the New Deal and raises countless provocative questions. (David Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945)

With Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson accomplishes something almost impossible―making us think in entirely new ways about the New Deal and its complex and contradictory legacy for modern America, and about the long legacy of slavery in our politics and society. (Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery)

Ira Katnelson’s Fear Itself is an extraordinary book that will change our understanding of the New Deal. He has shown the ways in which racism has shaped American life in the age of the Great Depression, and among other things he has brought the U.S. Congress to the front of the New Deal. It is a remarkable work of scholarship. (Alan Brinkley, author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War)

In Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson has taken up an old subject and given it new life. In vivid prose, he reinterprets the causes and consequences of the New Deal and its aftermath, putting new emphasis on the role of Congress and southern legislators in the construction of domestic and foreign policy and the fighting of a world war and a cold war. His arguments are compelling, his documentation thorough. Fear Itself will, from this moment on, be the place to go for an understanding of the making of the New Deal and twentieth-century America. (David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie)

A wholly new approach to the New Deal takes history we thought we knew and makes it even richer and more complex. In this deeply erudite, beautifully written history, Katznelson... adopts an expansive view of the New Deal, extending it to the end of the Truman administration. (Kirkus Reviews)

Positing that the New Deal preserved liberal democracy, but at the expense of compromises with illiberal forces, Katznelson’s hefty history weighs other historians’ interpretations of the New Deal as it knowledgeably advances its own. (Booklist)

Engrossing… It is an exhilarating pleasure to lose yourself in this old-fashioned example of original historical scholarship. Fear Itself is a sprawling, ambitious book that offers illuminating insights on nearly every page. Among Katznelson’s gifts is the one most valuable to readers and most in danger of extinction in the American academy: He writes clear, energetic prose without a whiff of academic jargon or pretension… Entertaining and enlightening. (Robert G. Kaiser - Washington Post)

Ambitious, fascinating, and slightly dark… [Katznelson’s] account of how a belief in the common good gave way to a central government dominated by interest-group politics and obsessed with national security. (Louis Menand - New Yorker)

Brilliant… One of the many strengths of Fear Itself is that it brings Congress back to center stage in the New Deal era. American politics past tend to be retrospectively seen through the lens of the presidency, an impulse that is particularly understandable with respect to FDR, who almost certainly did more to shape the political landscape than any politician of the last century… One of the many virtues of this masterful book is that it rescues the tragedies and ironies of the New Deal from the facile "liberal fascism" taunts from the likes of Jonah Goldberg. (Scott Lemieux - American Prospect)

In Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson?has produced an excellent work of synthesis about the political and economic terms of the New Deal. It forms a bittersweet homage to the period he has long thought of as the pivotal moment in the development of both American democracy and the US national security state, founded on foreign and domestic policy designed around the “containment” of threats"…. His powerful and well-paced account begins in 1933 at the start of FDR’s extended presidency and ends with the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower 20 years later"… anyone wanting an intelligent guide to the ideas that still shape its place in our own fractious times should begin by reading this book. (Duncan Kelly - Financial Times)

Fear Itself is a provocative look at how modern America―created three-quarters of a century ago by the very Southern barons who were so important a part of the New Deal ―was shaped. We think of history as a settled thing, tucked safely in a faraway past. This book is a reminder of how very surprising it can be. (David Shribman - Boston Globe)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (March 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404508
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #243,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Gryphonisle on June 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As others have noted, this is not a book for FDR addicts looking for a stroll down memory lane; it is not a sweet summer read. This is a very dense book with a focus on the legislative branch, both houses of Congress, and how they impacted the New Deal, WWII, and set in place what became our modern world. FDR is only mentioned in passing, and the other famous New Dealers, like Harold Ickes go practically unmentioned. Since the South, with its one party system in place since 1900, had the most senior senators and congressmen, they were the power brokers of the day, and their concerns affected everything from Social Security to the military's ability to vote at war, and thus this book shows how the South had a disproportionate influence on domestic and international affairs in the thirties, forties and early postwar era.

The reason for the Legislative focus is due to the three fears the author makes center to the mission of the book, and how those three fears of the era largely guided politicians in the West. The first fear was that the Western Democracies with their legislative governance, were no match for the Dictators in dealing with the problems of the day. The book more than squashes that concern. With all its flaws---Epic flaws---Congress showed that legislature centered democracies could deal with pressing issues and keep democracy afloat. The second fear deals more with the concerns arising with the Bomb, after the war; that the need for secrecy to build and maintain a nuclear arsenal was incompatible with democracy. We haven't got to the end of this chapter in history, so the book is at its weakest when dealing with it.
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57 of 63 people found the following review helpful By William H. Janeway on March 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson has accomplished something astonishing: he makes us re-think the New Deal. By deeply embedding the political actors of the crucial twenty years from 1932 in the evolving balance of political culture and power of that time, he defines the challenges of the Great Depression and World War II and the first post-War years as they were considered and addressed under the circumstances then prevailing. Most dramatically, Katznelson brings out the decisive role played by the "solid" Southern segregationists, as they migrated from economic allies of FDR to bitter opponents of liberals who threatened "the Southern way of life" and became economic allies of the reactionary Republicans who would roll back the New Deal reforms. Katznelson weaves the anecdotes that bring history to life with the analytics that endow scholarship with rigor in order to deliver the central themes of his argument. He entirely escapes the temptation to read the New Deal through the lens of contemporary concerns, a temptation to which so many of its historians have succumbed for more than 50 years. Fear Itself is original in its theses and masterful in its execution. It is a great work of history.
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By David Shulman on April 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
There have been thousands of books written on Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Instead of focusing on the executive branch, Katznelson shifts the focus to the Congress, particularly the southern Democrats who dominated the caucus and chaired the major committees. The author convincingly demonstrates that when the southerners were with him, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman got what they wanted. Conversely when the southerners opposed the Adminstration, the New and Fair Deals floundered. It is here where Katznelson makes an important contribution to our understanding of the New Deal and the early postwar era.

With respect to domestic policy, Katznelson views the approach the southerner took through the prism of race. Specifically where the southerners feared the underpinnings of the Jim Crow south were under attackl they backed away from Roosevelt. Although I largely agree with that thesis, the major failing of the book in my opinion, is that Katznelson ignored the Jacksonian roots of the southern Democrats then sitting in Congress. At its founding the Jacksonian Democrats were both racist domestically and hawkish with respect to foreign policy. Thus while the southerners, opposed Roosevelt dometically after 1938, they stood by him and later Truman in supporting the foreign and defense polcies of the emerging national security state.

I would recommend "Fear Itself..." to both serious students of American history and the casual reader interested in how much the the institutions we now take for granted came into being.

David Shulman
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56 of 63 people found the following review helpful By EWebb on March 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
In history class we were basically told that the New Deal was all about FDR using his charisma and this government expansion to end the Great Depression. We know that it isn't that simple and this book drives that point home.

The author explores every angle of the New Deal and it truly changed my thinking regarding its effects not only in that time but even how some of the actions taken then effect our lives today.

The look at how these ideas and programs worked their way through congress and some of the surprising bargains that were made is truly fascinating and a much different view of the New Deal and Depression than the one we were taught in school. History wants to give us singular heroes and while FDR was a driving force behind the New Deal he certainly didn't do it alone. The real story is one of a lot of real people who passed programs (some good, some bad) that still effect us today and changed the role of government and our expectations of it. The author relates all of this well and changes our previous views of the New Deal.

We've always gotten the New Deal history from an FDR angle but never seen the inner workings of how a congress was able to get this much revolutionary and radical change pushed through in just a few years. This makes us really think twice when we are today's congress that doesn't seem to get anything done.

The author presents what happened then and later effects from an unbiased but just different point of view than past looks at the New Deal. We see both the positives and negatives of these programs then and today.

At points the book does get a bit long winded and maybe repetitive on some subjects, but overall this is a fresh, exhaustive and thought provoking look at the New Deal era.
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