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Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States) Paperback – April 19, 2001
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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 --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Rarely does a work of historical synthesis combine such trenchant analysis and elegant writing. Because of its scope, insight, and purring narrative engine, Kennedy's book will stand for years as the definitive history of the critical decades of the American century. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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
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.