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Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 8, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

New York Times editorial board member Cohen (coauthor, American Pharaoh) delivers an exemplary and remarkably timely narrative of FDR's famous first Hundred Days as president. Providing a new perspective on an oft-told story, Cohen zeroes in on the five Roosevelt aides-de-camp whom he rightly sees as having been the most influential in developing FDR's wave of extraordinary actions. These were agriculture secretary Henry Wallace, presidential aide Raymond Moley, budget director Lewis Douglas, labor secretary Frances Perkins and Civil Works Administration director Harry Hopkins. This group, Cohen emphasizes, did not work in concert. The liberal Perkins, Wallace and Hopkins often clashed with Douglas, one of the few free-marketers in FDR's court. Moley hovered somewhere in between the two camps. As Cohen shows, the liberals generally prevailed in debates. However, the vital foundation for FDR's New Deal was crafted through a process of rigorous argument within the president's innermost circle rather than ideological consensus. Cohen's exhaustively researched and eloquently argued book provides a vital new level of insight into Roosevelt's sweeping expansion of the federal government's role in our national life. (Jan. 12)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics agree that by focusing on five aides to the president, Nothing to Fear provides a new and interesting perspective on an epochal period in American politics. Cohen gears his writing to the lay reader, sparing the heavy policy analysis and producing a narrative both enjoyable and compelling. While the New York Times Book Review notes that focusing only on FDR's first 100 days might yield a misleading impression of the New Deal and that Cohen's framework—the five biographical sketches of five key FDR aides—represents "only a sampling of the many planets orbiting Roosevelt's sun," reviewers generally agree that Cohen's close view serves his book well. By examining five aides with diverse political views, Cohen insightfully sketches the ideological complexity of FDR's start in office, while also establishing a perspective on the committed leftward course his presidency ultimately took. 
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (January 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420196X
  • ASIN: B0028N72NU
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,978,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jonathan Zasloff on February 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nothing to Fear is a superb work of narrative. Cohen writes very well, and his portraits of FDR's key advisors during the One Hundred Days are sensitively drawn as well as accurate.

Roosevelt himself seems to take a back seat in the narrative, and to a large extent, this works well, because it helps to explain why the legislation that emerged out of the One Hundred Days seemed so contradictory. The Economic Act, backed by fierce fiscal conservative budget director Lewis Douglas, slashed spending, eliminated thousands of federal workers, and cut off thousands of injured veterans from their disability payments. Yet the National Industrial Recovery Act contained the most massive public works program in US history -- no doubt because those provisions were the brainchild of Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, who had little use for the Hooverism of Douglas.

Nothing to Fear is particuarly useful because it organizes for the reader what was in fact an unorganized storm of legislation. And it does this also by looking through the prism of Roosevelt's advisors. Thus, we can see some of the main outlines by following these personnel: 1) the Banking Act (Raymond Moley); 2) the Economy Act (Douglas); 3) the Agricultural Adjustment Act (Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace); 4) the public works provisions in the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Civilian Conservation Corps (Perkins); and 5) the Federal Emergency Relief Act (Harry Hopkins, who did not show up until the 73rd day). And Cohen's narrative talents are deft enough also to seamlessly weave in other major pieces of legislation such as the Securities Act of 1933 and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

So if you are looking for a riveting narrative of the period, then Nothing To Fear is your book.
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Format: Hardcover
Even those who believe they are familiar with Roosevelt and the New Deal are likely to be surprised to learn things they did not know from this book. Adam Cohen's "Nothing to Fear" is 318 pages long and is fairly easy to read and deals almost exclusively with the first 100 days of FDR's administration. In many books that cover the 12 years of the Roosevelt's presidency some of the finer details of the beginnings of his administration become obscured, particularly in comparison to FDR's stewardship of the war effort between 1941 and his death in April 1945.

The reader should be struck by the similarities between the current economic crisis and the much more dire situation that faced Roosevelt upon taking office in March 1933. Although not novel, Cohen makes it clear that FDR had few fixed ideas about what to do about the Depression and was willing to try a variety of things to see what would work. Unlike Hoover, however, Roosevelt was not willing to simply let nature takes its course. Many of his initial programs, such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the National Recovery Act were aimed at ending the Depression by restricting competition.

FDR knew little about economics, had many conservative instincts and his administration included several very conservative personalities in it, most notably Lewis Douglas (also an anti-Semite), the budget director. As Cohen tells the story, there was a battle for FDR's soul won by the liberal or progressive members of the administration, notably Agriculture Secretary Henry Wallace, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, advisors Rexford Tugwell and Harry Hopkins. Cohen includes mini biographies of many of these figures, as well as one of Raymond Moley, FDR's principal advisor, who fell out with him in the mid-1930s.
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Format: Hardcover
Adam Cohen's "Nothing to Fear" is a great read on the the New Deal. When I picked up this book, I expected to read a lot about Roosevelt himself.

What makes this book great is its focus on the characters that really deserve the credit (or blame, in the eyes of conservatives). He brings about the fascinating stories of Francis Perkins, Henry A Wallace, Harry Hopkins, and the lone conservative, Lewis Douglas. Cohen especially focuses on Perkins' role, as the woman whose policies and goals were also seen through during the New Deal. These people were the ones devising policy, as Roosevelt himself was against massive public works projects originally.

A great read, and a clear outline of the New Deal. It also makes the argument that although shifting away from Douglas/Hoover conservatism, it was not the socialism it could have been.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nothing To Fear by Adam Cohen

This book is a thoughtful examination of President Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days in office. The author views this tumultuous period from the perspective of five key Roosevelt associates: Robert Moley presidential aid and his most intimate advisor; Lewis Douglas, director of the budget, and another member of the "beside Cabinet", who along with Moley, met with Roosevelt each morning; Frances Perkins, secretary of labor, champion of an ambitious progressive agenda; Henry Wallace, secretary of agriculture, determined to rescue farmers from financial ruin and Harry Hopkins another Roosevelt intimate who became the leading public works administrator for the New Deal.

One of the many charms of this engaging book is the authors' ability to weave several related themes into his text. We are first presented with an informative biographical sketch of each individual spotlighting how their upbringing, education and life experiences prepared them for the Roosevelt vision of a New Deal.
The author then fills in the historical context of the challenges these individuals faces - massive unemployment, deep distrust of the banking system, and disintegration of the family farm. Finally tying it all together we learn how each principle interacted with Roosevelt and achieved there mutually agreed upon goals.

At the end of the book the author provides a capsule biography of Roosevelt's advisors. In one of the ironies of history it turned out that Robert Morley drifted from the progressive Democratic vision of the New Deal and eventually became a strong support of Republican conservative Barry Goldwater in 1964. The other four individuals kept the faith.
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