on July 22, 1999
David Kennedy's book, "Freedom From Fear" is a monumental achievement of historical writing.
Covering the years from just before outbreak The Great Depression to the end of World War II and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the author focuses on the impact which Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) had on America during this seminal period of our history, and how his influence still impacts on our country today.
"Freedom From Fear" is an extremely long book--over 900 pages in length--and the early chapters, detailing various aspects of The "New Deal" and the many agencies under the "New Deal" which F.D.R. helped establish, are a bit too detailed and not quite as interesting as the rest of the book. But none of the wealth of information which Kennedy gives is dull or uninteresting--and when Kennedy starts to write about the events that occurred in Europe and the Pacific during World WarII, his book becomes as enthralling as any novel.
A previous Amazon Reviewer faults Kennedy for being anti-Rosevelt and says that Kennedy feels "nothing Roosevelt did seems right." I wonder if we have read the same book! Kennedy is an obvious admirer of F.D.R. and does not hesitate to point out his many accomplishments and praise his ability as a politician and "visionary" in helping to draw so many conflicting elements in Congress and the country as a whole, together.
Kennedy DOES point out that Roosevelt kept many of his thoughts and motives to himself--and that even his closest friends didn't know always exactly what he was THINKING. But the fact remains that F.D.R. accomplished wonders in drawing our country together and restoring a "Faith in ourselves" as a nation, that was woefully lacking until he became president. Kennedy gives more than ample credit to Rosevelt's accomplishments, and is an impartial enough as a historian to also mention his weaknesses and faults. Fortunately for our country, his accomplishments far outweigh his weaknesses!
A further observation about this book, which I think should attract a wide readership and make his book appealing to all organization is superb! His writing is extremely clear and free of "pedanticism." His chapters, describing the various battles fought during World War II (i.e. The Battle of Midway; Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, etc.), are as riveting as any novel.Written as a historian, Kennedy still has a novelist's flair for bringing what he writes about to life on the printed page. The "facts" he presents are totally free from "colorization"--but the WAY he presents them is dramatic and thoroughly engrossing.
One of the most appealing aspects of his book is his "organization" of material. His accounts of the personalities of many of the world leaders described in his book are seemlessly interspersed with the history he is describing. His "profiles" of various leaders are gems of cogent brevity.
"Freedom From Fear" is historical writing at its best--detailed, always interesting--and dramatic in in impact. It amply deserves to win a Pulitzer Prize--which I hope it does!
Larry Auerbach, Las Vegas, NV
on April 12, 2001
After looking at all the extremely positive views of Freedom From Fear, it is with some trepidation that I offer some negative comments. This is a book that I really looked forward to reading and wanted very much to like. On the positive side, I must state that I learned a great deal, particularly about the depression, that I did not know. And I also certainly admire Dr. Kennedy for tackling such a massive project and condensing the results into a single volume. But therein, I think, lay the seeds of some of the difficulties. Specifically, I have three problems with it.
First, because he is trying to cover so much, the book ends up being just a broad survey and, of necessity, omits too much, and places too much reliance on secondary sources. This is probably inevitable considering the scope of the project and the vast literature available. Each chapter covers a particular theme, which makes the book look like a series of lectures or articles, rather than a unified whole.
Second, the book badly needed a good editing before publication. There are two problems here. The first is that stories are repeated, almost verbatim, in different chapters, and occasionally even within a single chapter. The second is that, in the areas with which I am familiar, I found numerous factual errors. To cite just three, at the battle of the Philippine Sea it was not Raymond Spruance, commander of the Fifth Fleet, who ordered the lights turned on for the returning aircraft, but Marc Mitscher, commander of the carrier groups. Again, it was not Thomas Kinkaid, commander of the Seventh Fleet, who "crossed the T" at Surigao Strait, but rather Jesse Oldendorf, who commanded the battleships and other fire support ships. But my favorite is the photo caption which refers to the horizontal stabilizer in the tail assembly of a B-17 as its "rear wing". If I'm able to spot these errors in areas with which I'm familiar, it makes me wonder about how many there may be in areas with which I'm not familiar.
My last criticism is the most important, and that deals with the tone of the book. As a couple of reviewers have mentioned, the author is negative about nearly everyone in the cast of characters, most especially about Roosevelt and Churchill. (Among the exceptions are Truman (who comes in only at the very end), Hopkins, and, most peculiarly, Stalin.) I suspect the problem may be that Dr. Kennedy is just too far removed from the events he describes. Everyone knew that Roosevelt and Churchill had faults and made mistakes. But they have to be viewed in the true context in which they lived and operated. They were both heroic figures who did the best they could in situations that few have ever experienced or could handle. ...
With this wonderful book, David Kennedy has produced a definitive treatment of the crisis of the century, a book of epic proportions; one detailing, describing and explaining the many ways in which the insoluble social, economic, and political maelstrom that enveloped this country is related to the history of what came thereafter. As in other recent tomes such as Doris Kearns Goodwin's "No Ordinary Times" and Tom Brokow's The Greatest Generation", the present volume is quite explicit in meaningfully linking how the harrowing kinds of experiences, trials, and tribulations of the American people helped to forge the kind of character, determination, and resolve that was later so instrumental in meeting the challenges associated with the Second World War.
Yet unlike Brokow's effort and that of other historians like Stephen Ambrose, Kennedy avoids wide use of primary interviewing, and the difference this leads to in the tone and perspective of the book is telling. Like Goodwin's effort, this is a superb book, wonderfully written, eminently accessible (an important quality given its length of nearly 900 pages), with a sometimes soaring prose style that is so distinctive and so refreshing that reading it is a joy. This is history come to life, full of the color and hues of the original events, presented in a manner that is at once both academically sophisticated and yet available and readable by the general audience. Kennedy makes the reader feel as though he is present in the moment, experiencing the events as they transpire rather than eavesdropping some seventy or so years after the fact. Hearing about the ways in which feckless Herbert Hoover, for example, was in many ways the helpless victim of circumstances is quite interesting.
So is his take on so many other personalities and issues of the time, from the particulars of the New Deal and how they were conceived all the way to the insidious domestic treatment and 'internment' of Japanese Americans after the outbreak of WWII. Of course, Kennedy's book is rife with interesting and often provocative interpretations of the events, and this willingness to weigh in intelligently and convincingly adds to the overall entertainment and intellectual value of the book. While I didn't necessarily agree with all of these interpretations or his conclusions, it is always a pleasure to be in the presence of such an active, nimble and creative intellect. This is a book that anyone with an interest in the literally endless ways we were formed in the crucible of events of the past as well as by the people who came before us will want to experience this absolutely top-shelf new work by David Kennedy. Enjoy!
on March 22, 2000
As a former student of Professor Kennedy's at Stanford, I confess bias. Nevertheless, David illuminates America's past like no other historian, contemporary or past. He has a unique talent for captivating readers, setting the stage and making the reader feel they are at ringside. We often forget the ordeal and emotion of the Great Depression and World War II, the Fireside Chats, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Roosevelt and Hiroshima. Kennedy has painstakingly researched this book, inserting commentaries from those who made history plus his own penetrating insights. You will find balance and fairness here, not partisan rhetoric or pedantry. Hoover was in many respects ahead of his time (although some accuse Kennedy wrongfully of a Stanford bias), McArthur knew how to stroke the PR machinery, Roosevelt was a shrewd politician, Churchill was a master manipulator, Stalin a man whose patience ran thin waiting for a promised Second Front. Other great portraits include John L. Lewis, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, General Patton ... what a great read! Buy this book!
on June 11, 1999
Professor Kennedy has given us a monumental work on a critical period in the history of the United states and the world. Kennedy displays an intuitve understanding of the causes of the great depression. He gives us a new and positive inter- pretation of Herbert Hoover. In Kennedy's view the ''Great Engineer'' is a closet liberal who paved the way for the new deal. Kennedy clearly is an admirer of Franklin Roosevelt,but is not blind to his hero's shortcomings. The author frankly admits that the new deal did not end the depression and that during WWII Roosevelt was decieved by Joseph Stalin. Kennedy gives a superb account of the political radicalism of the thirties complete with unforgetable portraits of Huey Long and Father Coughlin. The account of the second world war also rises to the occassion. I found this book to be a fascinating read and I highly reccomend it. Thank you Professor Kennedy.
on January 23, 2000
I loved this book because he writes the way I wish more history books were written--which is a book full of facts based on meticulous research, yet the writer not being afraid to make his own judgement about events(particularly policies of the New Deal by FDR). I figure I am paying for the wealth of knowledge and opinion of Prof. Kennedy. As far as opinion, it seems very objective and impartial. Although I detected sympathies.
I greatly enjoyed the first part on the New Deal and the way the writer incorporates the human equation of individuals with the policies on a larger government scale. This made is very enthralling and easy to read. It was almost like a historical novel. I think it takes a very self confident history professor to write like that.
The second part on WWII was a good general overview. As a student of WWII history, I felt Prof. Kennedy could have incoporated more humaness to it like he did during the first part of the book.
One aspect I enjoyed was his focus on the aerial war(combined bomber offensive) as it was woven in nicely with the grand scheme of US involvement in the European Theater of Operation(ETO). Most books focus on separately on only the land war or air war.
on November 1, 1999
This is a superb, gripping book, with fresh insights throughout. The concluding epilogue alone is worth the price as a fine summary of a pivotal era that shadows us still. Douglas Kennedy is too intelligent, informed and felicitous a writer and historian to accept orthodox presumptions that govern our thinking of the era. His discussions of the economic forces at work - while glazed over by some readers - are well worth the effort as they give the patient reader a chance to understand the bedrock of the present global system. Some readers may find him a bit too dismissive of MacArthur, or perhaps a mite too kind to Hoover. And perhaps the book could have done a stronger job explaining the foundations of the global economy set in the closing years of the war and just after - an American legacy that may already dwarf the welcome but ambiguous Cold War victory. But these are small cavils; his facts are solid. This is a great history that skillfully blends human drama, historical analysis and a great arsenal of scholarship. You can't go wrong on this one; it was a pure pleasure to read.
on August 21, 2011
The one thing that remains constant as I continue my march through the ages of history of the United States, is that America is a nation that continues to transform and change. The two extraordinary events of the Great Depression and World War II helped transform the nation its people. The leader though both of these great crises was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not since George Washington led us through both the American Revolution and the early days of the national government had one leader impacted the nation's destiny by shaping the country's response to two great national events.
Economic 'depressions' had happened before in our country, in the late 1830s, late 1870s, and mid-1890s. However the event we now know as the 'Great Depression' lasted longer than any other and came as a great shock because the twenties had been such a boom time. Kennedy traces the source of the severity of this depression to the international factors that emerged from World War I. In this analysis, Herbert Hoover had been more of a victim of events than the cause of them. Nevertheless, Hoover no longer had the public's trust nor confidence and the electorate turned him out of office in 1932. What I learned from this book was how the Depression came in waves. That it was not right after the stock market crashed that things went bad, but a series of events that continued to torpedo the U.S. Economy until it collapsed.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor move into the White House, the President brought with them Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins. While in Washington they begin to set up the New Deal. Kennedy spends a great deal of time discussing the New Deal and its impact. The New Deal benefited and continues to benefit the nation. Its immediate impact with programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps provided the unemployed temporary employment. The New Deal continues to impact us today with Social Security, banking reforms, a minimum wage, and safety regulations for workers. Kennedy explains clearly that the New Deal did not end the depression. What it did do however, was provide security for the American people from the rough waves of the market. The same reason levies are built to protect against floods, the New Deal gave security to so the common people were not completely left exposed to the economic forces beyond their control.
"Roosevelt had prepared the ground well. His transparent allusions to less responsible schemes helped convince congressional doubters that the president's measured radicalism was far preferable to the dread Long and Townsend alternatives--or the even more dread option of a bill introduced by Minnesota representative Ernest Lundeen, which called for unemployment compensation at full wages to all jobless workers, paid for out of general tax revenues and administered by local workers' councils. After lengthy hearings through an exceptionally crowed legislative season, the Social Security Act became law on August 14, 1935." (p.271)
Roosevelt was not without his faults however, and those faults were exposed with the Court-packing scheme. His fault was not an attempt to reform the Court, for the Court for the fifty years prior had been acquiring quite an infamous reputation as the enemy of reform. It would impose its own narrow view of the U.S. Constitution and use it to undermine progressive legislation that the people had been trying for years to achieve through their elected representatives. Roosevelt was able to get the Court to change its tune but the unwise manner in which he did it cost him a great deal of political capital.
Then of course comes World War II, with American isolationism at an all-time high, Roosevelt did what he could to aid the allies with the Land Lease deal, turning America into an 'arsenal for democracy'. However, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, America could no longer turn its back on the war.
World War II had some of the history's most affective leaders. From the heroic Roosevelt, Churchill, and DeGalle on the allies; to the more villainous Stalin--who fought with the good guys--, Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo; no side in this conflict lacked for effective leadership. There was also a great deal of talented generals and admirals. Although having a great deal of talent is nice problem to have it, in part, made Roosevelt's job harder as he had to choose who would lead Operation Overlord and liberate Europe. Roosevelt felt that justice demanded that he use George Marshall, however, in the end he felt the right man for the job was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"Eisenhower's studied geniality found an appreciative admired in Franklin Roosevelt, himself an adept scholar of the human psyche and virtuoso practitioner of the recondite craft of leadership. Now, flying from Tunis to Sicily for an inspection tour of American troops, Roosevelt the accomplished master instructed Eisenhower the sedulous apprentice in the arts that he must summon and home in his new assignment. Huddling in a seat alongside the general as their aircraft droned over the Mediterranean, the president dwelt on the teeming difficulties that awaited Eisenhower in London. There he would confront head-on, day in a day out, the full majesty of the British Government and the seductive personality of Winston Churchill. Churchill still believed, Roosevelt warned, that a failed Channel attack could cost the allies the war--and that the risk of failure was large. Despite his assurances at Quebec and his submission at Teheran, Churchill had not laid to rest his gnawing anxieties about Overlord. It would take all of Eisenhower's skill and resolution, Roosevelt advised, to keep Overlord on schedule." (p.690)
On the Pacific front Fleet Admiral Nimitz and General MacArthur had their hands full with Japan. Kennedy describes the War in the Pacific as one brutal blood bath. The amount of blood and gore that went on in this side of the war played as a major factor for Harry S. Truman to use the Atomic Bomb.
"When the battle officially ended on June 22, only some 7,000 of the original 77,000 remained alive. The fighting had also killed over 100,000 Okianawan civilians. The Americans suffered 7,613 killed or missing, 31,807 wounded, and 26,211 non-battle casualties on the island, a nearly 35 percent casualty rate, in addition to the nearly 5,000 who dies and 4,824 who were wounded at sea. Among the dead were Buckner, his chest sundered by a Japanese shell fragment, as well as the celebrated war correspondent Ernie Pyle, felled by a sniper's bullet. The awful carnage on Okinawa, like that on Iwo Jima, weighed heavily on the minds of American policymakers as they now contemplated the war's endgame." (p.834)
This book is covers so much in under a thousand pages. One thousand seems like a lot, but for the amount of information the reader receives it is actually quite a low number. Kennedy does not go into a great deal about the Holocaust primarily because this book is about the United States, but he does discuss how the people in the United States had a difficult time in the absorbing what was actually happening to the Jews and other 'undesirables' of Germany. The book also covers the American home front, the status of African-Americans and other racial minorities, and the changing attitudes about the role of women as a result of the war. Kennedy goes over the horrible internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the tragic case of Fred Korematsu. I really appreciate Kennedy's take on the 'average American' before and after these two events.
On a technical side note I would once again say that I appreciate the Oxford series for leaving the footnotes at the bottom of the pages they are on and not at the end of the book. It makes looking at sources easy and does not distract from the general narrative.
Freedom from Fear is a wonderful book which I highly recommend to anyone. Like the rest of this series I find its depth incredible without being overwhelming.
on July 20, 2006
David Kennedy's "Freedom from Fear," the 9th volume of the Oxford History of the United States, is a generally exceptionally well researched history covering from the Great Depression to the end of World War II. In this book, Kennedy offers a summary and a synthesis of research by dozens of historians, as well as giving his own personal interpretations of key events and individuals.
I believe most of David Kennedy's interpretations and judgments are well reasoned. However, I disagree with his deemphasis upon the major decline in the stock market between late 1929 - 1931 as one of the main causes of the Great Depression.
Even more so I dissent very strongly with David Kennedy's suggestion the Roosevelt administration should have tried harder to avoid war with Japan by essentially appeasing Japanese aggression against China. To quote from his book, Kennedy writes on page 513: "Why not acquiesce, however complainingly, in the Japanese action in China, reopen at least limited trade with Japan..." Given the fact that Japanese aggression and atrocities in China were as bad or worse as Germany's in Europe by late 1941, I find Kennedy's opinion morally reprehensible.
In general, this is a very good book, covering social, economic, political and military history of the era. However, don't read "Freedom from Fear," expecting to learn much about cultural history in the United States between the Great Depression and World War II.
on June 18, 2016
Bottom Line First:
David M. Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear is a worthy addition to the estimable Oxford Histories of the United States. Over all this is academic writing written for the pleasure of the reader. There are some factual mistakes but given the skim of history they tend to get lost in the need to keep the narrative moving. Depending on how much you have already read about the Depression or World War II or of American presidential politics you may find portions of the book too shallow for your previous background. Kennedy argues that the the depression had forced government to directly address making economic policies to act to counter economic instability. He has definite opinions about leaders we may idolize and a historian’s disdain for the idea of national political heroes.
David Kennedy has attempted too much. While this is only 16 years of history; more like 20 given the need to provide background on the Depression, 860 pages should have been enough, but more so than other histories in this series this volume feels crowded. Against this is a well defended theory that this time period created in America, and especially in it leadership a determination that American should have some economic stability and by extension, international security.
Rarely have I seen it argued that what we call the Depression was actually a series of failures, beginning in the agricultural sector and brought on by the reduction in foreign dependence on the American farm after WWI. That another harbinger of the eventual melt down was felt in the Auto industry is also rarely mentioned. Finally Kennedy makes a good case that there was a depression and then much later what we call the Greater Depression.
That Hoover had had three years in which to address the original collapse is something easy to forget. Hoover had been a great humanitarian before entering national politics and he was sincere in his determination that working Americans should not suffer needlessly for the mistake made by capital. Historically boom and bust cycles had been the norm and the average working family planned to have just enough to tide them across the unavoidable bad year.
Hoover’s error was in the belief that in a free society, and a free market institutional decisions would be made on a voluntary basis to take on financial burdens without passing them onto employees and customers. Kennedy is sympathetic toward Hoover and his belief in what looked like a coherent policy process.
With the arrival of the Roosevelt administration. Kennedy is less impressed with a man of enormous political skills and what looks like a scattershot and contradictory approach to crises management. Kennedy describes Roosevelt's initial approach as more Hoover, but under the name of the new administration. Roosevelt however would attempt to go beyond Hoover. Some changes would become mandatory. That Roosevelt was able to force the free market to acknowledge the supremacy of government was somewhat new and in many cases successfully resisted.
Both Hoover and Roosevelt understood that 20th century, corporate capitalism was a dictatorship with no need to acknowledge human needs. Of the two, Roosevelt left behind a legacy, if incomplete of changes from child labor laws, to social security. More importantly Government regulation enforced things like reporting standards that would make for example the 35 year mortgage and minimum standards for corporate financial reporting happen.
The emergence of aggressive dictators was not enough to force America or Roosevelt to come to a serious knowledge of world affairs. In Kennedy’s version, America drifted into wart with Japan almost by neglect and defeated her in much the same off handed manner. War with Germany was something Roosevelt understood earl to be a matter of the existence of western civilization but America was not going back to Europe if that meant nothing more than another war over nothing which is how WWI had come to be understood. Parenthetically, this was not a bad conclusion. Despite aggressive action allowed by if not ordered by Roosevelt, Germany avoided forcing the issues of American involvement in Europe until in Dec. 1941. Hitler, almost inexplicable declared war on America and that problem solved itself.
Given my previous interest in World War two, it is in this section that Kennedy work began to feel particularly thin. Many of the important leaders to emerge worldwide are given scant if any notice. This is particularly true in the Pacific which receives barely a few chapters towards the end of the book. Actions proceeds in a blur. Given the attention given to the several Conferences in the Atlantic Theater, Casablanca, Potsdam, Tehran and on to Yalta; not enough thought is given to the world they helped to create nor is there sufficient thought given to how the end of the war would lead to the emergence of wars to end colonial powers form Algeria, to Vet Nam.
Freedom from Fear is a good history. If this is all you know about this period, you know a lot. My recommendation is that you do not end your studies with Freedom from Fear.