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Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States)
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Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. This book tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities.
The Depression was both a disaster and an opportunity. As David Kennedy vividly demonstrates, the economic crisis of the 1930s was far more than a simple reaction to the alleged excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before 1929, America's unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, wastefully consuming capital and inflicting untold misery on city and countryside alike.
Freedom From Fear explores how the nation agonized over its role in World War II, how it fought the war, why the United States won, and why the consequences of victory were sometimes sweet, sometimes ironic. In a compelling narrative, Kennedy analyzes the determinants of American strategy, the painful choices faced by commanders and statesmen, and the agonies inflicted on the millions of ordinary Americans who were compelled to swallow their fears and face battle as best they could.
Both comprehensive and colorful, this account of the most convulsive period in American history, excepting only the Civil War, reveals a period that formed the crucible in which modern America was formed.

The Oxford History of the United States

The Atlantic Monthly has praised The Oxford History of the United States as "the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship," a series that "synthesizes a generation's worth of historical inquiry and knowledge into one literally state-of-the-art book. Who touches these books touches a profession."
Conceived under the general editorship of one of the leading American historians of our time, C. Vann Woodward, The Oxford History of the United States blends social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history into coherent and vividly written narrative. Previous volumes are Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution; James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (which won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times Best Seller); and James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974 (which won a Bancroft Prize).

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

Customer Reviews:

  • Flawed History
    David Kennedy's "Freedom from Fear" is a very uneven read. It is as if the section on the Depression was written by Kennedy and the section on WWII was assigned to a graduate assistant. The Depression segment is well enough done. It contains quite a bit of primary research, though Mr. Kennedy seems to have a political axe to grind.

    Personally, I find it offensive when someone who claims to be a historian writes history and adds his own conclusions and value judgments. I'd rather add my own after hearing the history as plain as possible.

    Though the first section of the book is good, it lacks good flow. The second section (WWII) is little more than an overview of other more complete histories. I really expected to hear more about "The American People in Depression and War". Instead we have a summary of various battles in the Pacific and in Europe. One chapter is spent on the home front which can be summarized with the benign comment that the American public had more luxuries than any time previously.

    Mr. Kennedy did not fall into the trap of accusing Roosevelt of knowing of the proposed attack on Pearl Harbor, but he did get pulled into name calling when referring to Douglas MacArthur. His reference to "Dugout Doug" is unworthy of an accurate historian. Whatever MacArthur's personal failings and/or ego problems, he was fearless in battle. He was awarded 13 decorations for heroism, most of them in WWI. MacArthur's total campaign from Australia through the Phillipines was less costly in terms of casualties than the single European "Battle of the Bulge". Kennedy was more kind to another great ego, George Patton.

    While an earlier book of Mr. Kennedy's was considered for the Pulitzer Prize, there is no danger of this book being seriously considered for the prize. I would suggest there are far better and more politically neutral histories available that cover this period, though possibly not in one volume. ...more info
  • Thoroughy researched, well-written, balanced, insightful
    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!...more info
  • Informative AND Entertaining
    I'm a scholar (in philosophy), but I just don't know enough about American History. This book filled in a nice chunk for me. It's well written and easy to understand. It's also quite entertaining. Kennedy makes judgments about the personality of the people involved, which brings them to life. He's a bit hard on certain figures (eg MacArthur), but somehow that comes off as refreshing. There isn't a lot of hero worship here. Expect an honest account of what happened and some speculation on why, both from Kennedy and from his sources.

    The book is well researched, so if you want to follow up on this overview of two of the most critical decades in U.S. history, you will have the resources to do so.

    I plan to look for more books by this author, as he brings history alive in a way few writers do. ...more info
  • Freedom from Fear
    I had to purchase this book for an upper level history course on the FDR Era. I usually don't like course related material, but this book is very informative and it's an easy read. Great for references too! Make sure you have strong arms though...cause this is the biggest paperback book I've ever seen!...more info
  • History that is easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable!
    This book was used as the primary textbook for a history class I took this past Fall semester. It was easy to read because the writing flows easily across the page! Kennedy wrote a well-researched, finely-edited book about the 2 most traumatic periods in 20th century America, the Great Depression and World War II. His lengthy and thorough research on Herbert Hoover as President and the relationship between he and Franklin Roosevelt was very interesting and enlightening! I really enjoyed this book a great deal!...more info
  • Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
    An eye-opening account of who Hoover was. Early expectations of Roosevelt; his philosophy of government in contrast to Hoover's. IE, Roosevelt's refreshing eclectic, inclusive style. Perhaps more discussion of economics than the average person can handle. A long book - constant surprises. For those of us who lived through that era, or heard stories from parents and grandparents, this book sheds light on our own histories. ...more info
  • you need much time but at the end you will know definitely more about it
    It begins with a description of FDR, and his wife.
    Many topics are unvaluable for a foreigner; you can't grasp what was the big depression unless you read this book.
    I can regret there isn't much about Italy and Italians in Usa; well, some topics are more interesting, from a domestic point of view.
    It makes you hungrier to know more about this period, like every good book of history should do; the bibliografy is very exaustive....more info
  • Two, Two Books in One
    Any book that wins the author the Pulitzer Prize can't be all that bad. Kennedy has done an impressive job of taking one of the more momentous periods in American history and providing his readers with a short, but thorough survey to the American experience in both the Great Depression and the Second World War. This book is rare in that it will appeal to academic historians, policy wonks, but the general reader. A book that is nearly a 1000 pages in length might not seem short, but when one considers the mountain of literature that has been written on just World War II, you begin to realize how difficult it is provide a narrative account of these years without getting bogged down in the details. Kennedy's greatest strength is the quality of his prose. He won the Pulitzer once before, so you know he can write.

    Kennedy's story starts with the Great Depression and he attributes this economic crisis to long term issues stemming from the consequences of World War I rather than the policies of Herbert Hoover. In fact, he gives Hoover good marks for his vigorous efforts to improve the economy. Kennedy takes complex economic issues and explains them in simple terms without insulting his readers--not an easy thing to do. The American people, though, were of a different mind, blamed Hoover, and voted Franklin D. Roosevelt into the same office that his famous "Uncle Ted" had once occupied. Kennedy clearly respects and admires the second Roosevelt's political and leadership skills. He, however, sees the New Deal as being a weak at its center and conservative in nature. Calling the New Deal conservative might seem odd, but it stayed within the boundaries of what was acceptable to American society and was far less radical compared to the political philosophies that were gripping other regions of the globe at about this time.

    The second half of this book focuses on World War II, and will appeal more to general readers and is essentially a second book. In fact, the publisher has split the two sections and sells each as a separate book. The main continuing theme is the quality of Roosevelt's leadership; this time as a wartime Commander-in-Chief. Kennedy rejects the "greatest generation" malarkey and notes that Americans were slow to see the evil of the Nazis or the threat that Germany posed to their interests. Roosevelt made mistakes, but he knew what needed to be done and what was possible, generally was able to thread the needle between the two. Kennedy's coverage of the war years is broad and comprehensive, but is also detailed. There is a good deal of military history here, which is apporpriate and he moves easily from the strategic to the operation and even the tactical. In this sense, his coverage is quite similar to James McPherson's "Battle Cry Freedom," another Pulitzer winner from the same series that published this "Freedom from Fear."

    The subtitle of this book is a bit odd in that there is not a whole of focus on the American people, but rather their leaders. Nonetheless, this is an exceptional book that you will enjoy reading.
    ...more info
  • Excellent
    Freedom From Fear is one of the best books I have read in many years. It is chock full of fascinating facts about the Depression years and World War II. It is well-balanced and well written.

    Until I read this book I was never able to make clear connections between the depression, the presidency of FDR, and World War II. Every page brings new information and new insight. It is a pleasure to read....more info
  • An thorough history of the Great Depression
    David M. Kennedy is an emeritus professor of history at Stanford. This book is one volume of an encyclopedic Oxford History of the United States. Professor Kennedy seems to be relatively neutral on the controversial subject of Presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Hoover is portrayed neither as a blunderer nor as a reactionary. Many of Hoover's ideas were implemented when Roosevelt took office (such as the Emergency Banking Act, passed on a voice vote with no printed copy of the bill 4 days after Roosevelt's inauguration). Roosevelt is not described as a visionary who had all the answers. He seemed to be rather naive as a New York governor looking at national affairs from a new perspective. The book is well worth reading in the current recurrence of a New Depression...more info
  • The New Deal and FDR
    The book entitled "Freedom From Fear" was written with a deep insight into the elements of gradual change that eventually had a negative as well as a positive impact on the economic stability of the United States.The book places special emphasis on the Great Depression of 1929 under the Hoover administration.The book also focuses on FDR's struggle to develop federal programs under the New Deal in order to accomplish economic recovery during the depression years. FDR's first 100 days in office was spent developing plans for New Deal programs that would enable the masses to have three square meals a day, ample clothing ,and sufficient shelter.Freedom From Fear explores the obstacles that temporarily blocked the success of the New Deal federal agencies,especially in the agrarian South.The criteria and data was well researched in this book.For example,Franklin Roosevelt was exposed as having a hidden political agenda during his first term in office.It seems that FDR purposely ignored the economic and social reform demands of negroes because he was virtually afraid of offending his constituency in the South and their representatives in Congress. Many of these unresolved issues gave rise to the creation of a second New Deal during the Truman administration. The author of this book,David Kennedy,recognized Eleanor Roosevelt,FDR's wife as being a powerful,innovative force in FDR's private and public life. FDR was elected to the presidential office four times ,and Freedom from Fear brilliantly reports causes and effects of economic and social reform during the 1930s and 40s. This book is a historic masterpiece.It clearly traces a chronological path that strecthes from the late 1920s to the 40s that was filled with political,social,and economic chaos.The Freedom From Fear book is a pleasure to read, and it enables its readers to discover why the New Deal was an "economic necessity" after the Great Depression....more info
  • Amazing book through and through
    This book is HUGE but a great read. It won the Pulitizer Prize and it is obvious why. Not only is it thoroughly researched but it is an easy read. The author's writing flows and he really brings the period to life. I highly recommend this for historians, history buffs, and anyone else....more info
  • Great Non-Romanticized Story-Telling
    I read "Freedom from Fear" to get some idea of what my parents went through and what they talked about. Even though the times were hard in the Depression and in WWII, they seemed to look back on it with nostalgia. Just ask them about Roosevelt and they would almost get misty saying he was just about the greatest person who had ever lived. Sure the Depression and War were hard, but the enemies were definitely bad guys, and there was no gray area to worry about, as in Vietnam and Iraq. Also, the families and society pulled together in a common cause as in no time since.

    But this was only part of the picture, and I'm afraid that David M. Kennedy attempts to tell us the whole story, and it was thoroughly unromantic, and even blunt. He has the cold, objective eye of a historian separated emotionally and by years from the events he covers. In my opinion, it is really the way it should be covered, and he did a good job of it.

    Roosevelt, for example, gets a mixed grade for his heroic efforts to get the country back on track economically and through the War. For example, he approved the fire-bombing and atomic-bombing of enemy cities for morale-defeating purposes. He also required unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan early in the War, which may have unnecessarily cost hundreds-of-thousands of lives at the end of the War, when Germany and Japan felt obliged to fight to the bitter end (very bitter indeed for atom-bombed Japan). Also, some of the decisions made by Roosevelt and the Allies led to the sectoring of Europe after the War, and initiated the Cold War which lasted until 1989 when the Wall came down.

    On the other hand, Roosevelt gets good grades for the way he stimulated the economy. The Depression was NOT caused by the 1929 Crash per Kennedy, but was due in effect to the Industrial Revolution and the massive shift from an agrarian to an industrial society. The priming of the war machine not only won the War but stimulated the economy to such an extent that its effects are still felt today. His innovative so-called Keynesian (essentially governmental action) economic initiatives were keys to this remarkable turn-around. The US economy has roared for the decades since then, though punctuated by recessions from time-to-time to catch its breath.

    The War stories were good too. I was surprised that Churchill was so hesitant to support the go-ahead of Overlord, the invasion of Europe that started on D-Day. Stalin was just as bad as you might imagine, though his Russia suffered immensely while waiting impatiently for a second front (Overlord) to finally begin. The Japanese were demonized by strong racial animosity, but lived up to it by their cruel and inhumane treatment of foreign prisoners, especially with the Bataan Death March. I was disturbed that the Allies, as it turned out, could be pretty bad as well (something you don't hear much about). American racial discrimination also prevailed during much of the War with the segregated African Americans left often on the sidelines. On a much different note, I was fascinated by the Battle of the Philippine Sea that was arguably the largest sea battle in history, and was enjoined by over 100,000 sea-faring combatants in hundreds of ships and planes, often miles apart! That was amazing to me! And then there was the saying that Eisenhower's smile was worth 20 divisions: I thought that perfectly captured his contagious spirit of optimism.

    Also, the War lifted the country out of a massive country-wide psychological depression in which most folks apparently felt inadequate to cope with the economic trials. You might picture massive protests and uprisings, but surprisingly it was just the opposite: unhappy resignation and everyone feeling like a failure. I certainly didn't hear that part of the story from my family; they probably didn't want to talk about it.

    I still think Roosevelt was a great man and a great president! He navigated the country through our most dangerous period since the Civil War. He simply had feet of clay like the rest of us.

    What a great story "Freedom from Fear" tells, even though it is not romanticized.

    ...more info
  • A++ Historical Review of an Amazing Time Period
    This is a GREAT book, even at its astounding length and girth. ANYONE who is interested in the Great Depression (Great Depression I, maybe?) should read this book. It's entertaining and exciting, with a great writing style that makes it a pleasure to read. Seriously, if you love American history and don't mind taking a while to read about the most important fifteen years of the twentieth century, buy Freedom From Fear. ...more info
  • a simple change of prepositions explains it all
    ...achieving security was the leitmotif of virtually everything that the New Deal attempted. Unarguably, Roosevelt sought to enlarge the national state as the principal instrument of the security and stability that he hoped to impart to American life.

    ...ever after, Americans assumed that the federal government had not merely a role, but a major responsibility in ensuring the health of the economy and the welfare of citizens. That simple but momentous shift in perceptions was the newest thing in all the New Deal, and the most consequential.

    Is it possible that the History of the 20th Century can be explained by simple reference to a change in prepositions? That is the gist of the epiphany that struck me while watching David M. Kennedy on Booknotes (C-SPAN). He and Brian Lamb were discussing the fact that this book is part of the Oxford History of the United States joining James McPherson's excellent one-volume history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era (1988). Suddenly, the switch from "of Freedom" to "Freedom from", in the respective titles, struck me as emblematic of the pivotal change of emphases in the Modern world. The history of America from Plymouth Rock until the Crash was essentially the story of Man's struggle for Freedom, but Freedom in a positive sense, Freedom to do things--to worship, to speak, to gather, etc. Thus, McPherson's book details the great convulsion of the 19th Century, the Civil War and the struggle to free the slaves--a struggle to expand freedom. But Kennedy, charting the great 20th Century convulsion, has it exactly right, the importance of the responses to the Depression by both Hoover and Roosevelt lay in their decision to elevate a negative idea of Freedom, freedom from want, from hunger, from "the vicissitudes of life" above, and against, the traditional American ideal of individual Freedom. This shift from a government aimed at protecting Freedom to one designed to provide Security is the single most important thing that happened in 20th Century America.

    You may be surprised to see Hoover's name there, but one of Kennedy's great contributions in this book is this formal recognition by a liberal historian (joining the great conservative Paul Johnson, see Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties) that Hoover, far from being a do-nothing antediluvian, was basically a liberal interventionist, who started us down the path that lead to the New Deal. (Of course, the great difference here is that Kennedy concludes that this makes Hoover a more laudable figure, while Johnson lambastes him.) In fact, Kennedy's reappraisal of Hoover's activism, coupled with the quotes above, unintentionally leaves the, I believe accurate, impression that the only achievement of the New Deal--the change in focus from government as a guarantor of individual freedom to a provider of succor in time of want--was not even unique to the New Deal, but was instead a general response to the intractable Depression.

    I say "only achievement", because the book makes it pretty clear that the New Deal was completely ineffective, if not counterproductive, in combating the Great Depression. I was actually hesitant to read the book when Brian Lamb pointed out that Kennedy was one of the 400 historians who signed the inane petition opposing Clinton's impeachment. You sort of have to assume that a signatory of that ahistorical reading of history would be too doctrinaire a liberal to write fairly. In fact, Kennedy made clear in the interview and demonstrates amply in the book, that, while he is a fan of Roosevelt and approaches the work from this bias, he is perfectly willing to pass impartial judgment on FDR's shortcomings and failures. This is one of the real strengths of the book. Where Doris Kearns Goodwin basically wrote a hagiography in No Ordinary Time (see Orrin's review), Kennedy, while still obviously an adherent and in basic agreement with FDR's efforts, is willing to portray the New Deal as poorly planned out, even chaotic, willing to conclude that only the coming of War ended the Depression, willing to take Roosevelt to task for his extremist campaign speeches in 1940, willing to condemn his Court Packing plan and, later on, willing to impartially portray his dishonesty in trying to get us into the War and the irresponsibility of both his decision to run for a 4th term in light of his poor health and his lack of any consideration in choosing and preparing a successor.

    I have only two real complaints about the book. First, while Kennedy demonstrates great intellectual honesty in assessing FDR's failures, one result of his essential agreement with the concept of the New Deal is that he never really confronts the question of whether it was a mistake in and of itself. Was it worthwhile to surrender our national birthright of Freedom in exchange for a mildly elevated sense of Security? This fundamental question is not addressed. I even thought that Kennedy presented himself with the perfect opportunity to do so. He states that three premises underlay the entire New Deal effort to effect a new economic constitutional order: (1.) "the era of economic growth had ended"; (2.) "the private sector, left to its own devices, would never again be capable of generating sufficient investment and employment to sustain even a 1920's level economy"; (3.) the United States was an economically self-sufficient nation. (This is precisely what I mean when I refer to the West's "crisis of confidence", the failure of belief in capitalism and democracy.) It would seem that since all three of these bulwarks of New Deal reasoning lie in tatters beneath the Reagan Revolution, that some discussion about them would be necessary, but it's not here.

    Second, like Goodwin, and virtually every other writer for that matter, Kennedy treats FDR's battle with polio as if it had only beneficial effects. He became more empathetic, more caring, etc.. I know it would be unpopular, but it's high time that someone addressed the issue of whether FDR's physical handicaps rendered him emotionally unsuited to lead a vital and freedom loving nation. It strikes me that it is only political correctness that prevents us from discussing whether his world view was so changed by his crippling disease that he was incapable, at an admittedly trying time in our nation's history, to view the needs of the average American with the proper perspective. Or whether he was so emotionally twisted by his physical needs, that he simply assumed that everyone needed the same extraordinary level of assistance. I would argue that the Social Welfare state that he bequeathed us, by treating people like they were helpless, gave us several generations of people who grew increasingly dependent on government and gradually abandoned notions of self-help and personal responsibility.

    These quibbles aside, I heartily recommend the book. This huge (936 page), but eminently readable, history of America from the election of Hoover to the end of WWII should be required reading for all Americans.

    GRADE: A...more info

  • Interesting, Well Researched and Well Written!
    A very well written and detailed account of The events leading up to the New Dead and the Second World war. Kennedy has written a high quality scholarly work which is so well written that iit makes for a good read.
    I highly recommend it whether for scholarly use or for an interesting read....more info
  • Spanning the Real Depression Era
    If you've read Galbraith, Kindleberger, and Shlaes, this is your next book to read. The author, David Kennedy, a Stanford Professor, is one of America's finest historians, and this detailed book covers an extended time period that encompassed the real depression era. In the current economic crisis, the pundits are predicting a two-year slump. Get real!...more info
  • Excellent
    Freedom From Fear is one of the best books I have read in many years. It is chock full of fascinating facts about the Depression years and World War II. It is well-balanced and well written.

    Until I read this book I was never able to make clear connections between the depression, the presidency of FDR, and World War II. Every page brings new information and new insight. It is a pleasure to read....more info
  • A Superb treatment of the seminal event of the20th century
    David Kennedy has written a superb book that is definitely worthy of the Pulitzer prize it has recieved. Professor Kennedy treats the Great Depression and the second World War as unified events that constitute the seminal event of the twentieth century.Kennedy gives a lucid account of the causes of the Depression and gives one of the most accurate accounts of the career of one of our most misunderstood Presidents, Herbert Hoover. Hoover was in fact a Progressive Republican in the

    tradition of Theodore Roosevelt.Hoover very much believed in using government to fight the depression. A case can be made that the New Deal was simply the logical conclusion of Hoover's policies.The author is clearly a great admirer of Franklin Roosevelt who He believes saved America twice.But at the same time He is not blind to FDR's shortcomings. He readily concedes that the New Deal, which ended around 1938, failed to end the Depression.The New Deal's primary achieve- ment was a series of economic reforms which gave the American people real security against future economic downturns.The book also shows us the treacherous political minefield that Roosevelt led the nation through in the runup to our entry into World War II. This book is a very lengthy one but well worth the time it would take to read it. Professor Kennedy's achievement is an awesome one and deserves to take it's place alongside the Historical literature of this crucial period. I highly reccomend it....more info

  • An Iluminating Book
    I've never read a book this long (858 pp) before for pleasure, but I found the Freedom book so illuminating. I am 87 yr old and the book covers my youth, from age 8 to 23--and oh, did I experience personally the depression and the war! It was good to fill in the details and understanding of things where I had fragmentary but profound experiences. I remember farmers dumping milk because they couldn't sell it. I remember FDR's fireside chats and the hope he gave my family. And I remember at night walking around holding my 3 week old colicy baby while listening to the radio reports of D-day landings.

    Kennedy has done a superb job and I owe him great thanks. Lu Ann Darling...more info
  • Huge book, hugely readable
    Worth reading for WWII alone. For the first time, I apprehend the broad geo-political issues and interests that shaped the conduct of the war in all theatres....more info
  • A Magisterial & Authoratative Look At The Crisis Years!
    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!...more info

  • Superb Depression and WWII History
    Born in 1934 I have a permanent impression of the Depression and War years. Fear of not enough to sustain us during the Depression. Maturity or education not required. I do not agree with all of Mr. Kennedy's points but, in general, the book paints an accurate picture of the American People in vivid colors. A must read compare and contrast to America of the 21st Century....more info
  • ivory tower musings
    Mr. Kennedy has fallen prey to the usual curse of academia: judging history by our standards and failing to see the context of the times. His self-righteousness shows as he condemns the U.S. for slowness in reacting to Hitler, while saying we were far too aggressive with those meek Japanese. I'm glad FDR and Harry Truman were making those decisions (even without benefit of hindsight) than Prof. Kennedy....more info
  • Outstanding book! Beautifully written.
    I doubt my humble opinion could ever count for much compared to the Pulitzer this excellent book was just awarded. But it is worth all of the accolades it can get. It's simply one of the most outstanding books about this period of American history yet written. The author does a tremendous job keeping the reader thoroughly engaged throughout the entire 858 pages! This book is superb....more info
  • Perfect book for the history buff
    Freedom from Fear is an excellent book about the two most important times in American history: the Depression and World War II. Author Dave Kennedy researched his subject well and wrote in great detail the effect the Depression and WWII had on the American people. One person who Dave Kennedy writes about in great depth is Franklin Roosevelt. The president sought a ambitious program during the Depression to help Americans, he called it the New Deal. The New Deal created many of the social programs American take fo granted today. The author tells the story of the New Deal achievements and shortcomings. His other subject is the effects of World War II on Americans and the role America plays in the eventual defeat of the Axis powers.

    Dave Kennedy had a talent in storytelling. Even though the book is very long, I read with great interest and learned very much about how the Depression and the WWII changed life. I would highly recommend this book....more info

  • Excellent Historical Analysis
    This book is an excellent historical analysis of Depression and WWII era America. The book is well-researched and well-written, and pays attention to political realities. The author also explores the social impacts of the changes the Depression and WWII brought to the lives of women and minorities. I would recommend this to anyone who would like a broad introduction to the history of the 30s and 40s....more info
  • Magnificent
    Kennedy vindicates the editors' choice to devote an entire volume of the Oxford History series to the long decade of depression and war: 1929-1945. He demonstrates that the stresses and changes visited on the nation during this time are equally as profound as those experienced in the long decade of the Civil War era. It was during 1929-45 that the nation confronted the need to grow up -- the need to adopt the institutions and mind-set necessary to manage its economy and to accept its role in world affairs.

    The operative word for Kennedy is security. All of the contradictions of the New Deal can be reconciled with the observation that the goal was to find economic security and to become a more inclusive society that left no one behind. And in foreign affairs, Americans were made to realize that their domestic security depended on the ability to create a world where goods and ideas travelled freely across open borders.

    Kennedy's writing is endearing because he can empathize with his subjects while at the same time can bloodlessly expose their shabby underside. A wonderful and entertaining writer like Stephen Ambrose lost this gift, and his works suffered as a result. To appreciate the good that the United States has accomplished, one must first appreciate its dark side. And Kennedy lays it all out: the callous disregard for the dispossessed, the racism, the narrow insularity and cowardice of American diplomacy between the wars, the willingness to let the British and the Russians fight our battles, and the mean spiritedness of the race war with Japan.

    What is remarkable is that the nation emerged the better from all of this. The nation's ability after World War II to embrace its responsibilities to rebuild Europe and Japan, to promote European union, to contain the U.S.S.R., and to build a more inclusive society at home is a remarkable contrast to the mind-set of 1929.

    Kennedy rehabilitates Hoover's image. He's no hero, of course, but he's not the heartless free market idealogue portrayed in the popular literature. Hoover was a great man and a great progressive, but a poor politician ill suited to lead the country in a time of revolutionary change. Roosevelt comes off as a truly great political leader, but Kennedy pulls no punches in showing the equivocation and the at times bloodless political calculation that characterized Roosevelt.

    Kennedy has the judgment and erudition necessary to touch on all the great controversies about this period and to reach conclusions that are convincing. Roosevelt's New Deal, while a profound success in establishing the principle of government management of the economy and the twin governing principles of security and inclusiveness, was not sufficiently aggressive. Only with World War II do we finally emerge from the Depression, and Roosevelt perhaps went too far to accommodate big monied interests during World War II. And as for the war with Japan, it was a destructive race war that probably was avoidable. Roosevelt's handling of the European conflict was, on the other hand, exceptionally skillful, and Roosevelt did all that was politically possible in prodding the country from isolationism.

    Regarding the atomic bomb, Kennedy makes the point that there was no real debate about using it. It was a weapon that embodied and in some ways perfected the American approach to war as a war of great technology. The decision to use it was made years before when we chose to invest so much in its creation. In a passage that captures Kennedy's skill as a writer, Kennedy contrasts the tremendous industrial might of the superfortress bomber and atomic bomb with the pathetic Japanese effort to build balloon bombs that floated over the Pacific and then dropped into the American Northwest. The Japanese ability to mobilize and commitment to the war could not be equalled by the Americans. But the Americans were not fighting the same war as the Japanese -- they were fighting a war of industry and resources. And so the Japanese were smashed and suffered the first defeat in their long and glorious history.

    And yet, the nation emerges from all of this far better than it was in 1929 and the basic commitments to security at home and abroad were formed. This ability to transcend the dark side of the American character should be a source of great pride. Kennedy's love of country is a far more profound thing that the rah-rah approach of Ambrose or Brokaw.

    Until I read this book, I thought that David Potter's "The Impending Crisis", which dealt with the long decade of 1848-1861, was the greatest work of narrative American history. In some ways Kennedy betters Potter because he carries the story through the war (not just the lead-up) and because he incorporates the modern trend of emphasizing the experience of the common man, as opposed to writing history entirely through the eyes of political leaders. Potter, on the other hand, could write like a poet. On balance, I'd say that Kennedy is Potter's equal and has done for 1929-45 what Potter did for 1848-61.

    A very long book that is worth every page. ...more info
  • Engrossing Tale of America
    Non-fiction can be more engrossing than fiction, and this book is a good example, taking you from the height of American prosperity (for most people) to the depths of Depression, to even greater economic prosperity. The book's earlier chapters are particularly enlightening, adding a new perspective and appreciation for President Hoover, who actually did try to solve the Depression, but lacked the political skill to break away from his rigid thoughts of what government should do. I can't give the book five stars, however, because it gets bogged down in the World War Two chapters. The book is subtitled "The American People in Depression and War," but it loses that focus on the average American for too many chapters. There are other engaging books on the military and political aspects of World War Two written over the last few years (the works of Ambrose, for example.) Kennedy's finest chapters are those looking at the Homefront. More time should have been spent on that aspect as opposed to telling the story of planning for Overlord or Yalta. Other books tell that story....more info
  • Sometimes more is better
    From the point of view of busy sort of fellow, a 900 page tome is daunting, but this one is a joy to read. Don't be afraid... It's worth it!...more info
  • Wonderful book on the depression
    This is a wonderfully written history of the Depression and WWII. It is especially good on the Depression with multiple new insights into the US (many applicable to the current credit crisis). The WWII section treads on more well known history. It is one of the top 5 history books written (other include "What has God wrought" in the Oxford history series and Tuckmans "Bible and Sword.") ...more info
  • An insightful Narrative
    Freedom from Fear places the Depression and the Second World War together for analysis. Kennedy does a great job placing these two events into prespective in relation to one another. The book is an easy read for study or pleasure. The information and notes are helpful for further study of the various areas. The only down fall is that the footnotes are at the bottom of each page, and not in end notes. So pay attention the the resources you might want to explore while reading the text....more info