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Freedom from Fear : The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
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Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. Freedom From Fear tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities.
? Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. Freedom From Fear 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. Nor was the fabled prosperity of the 1920s as uniformly shared as legend portrays. Countless Americans, especially if they were farmers, African Americans, or recent immigrants, eked out thread bare lives on the margins of national life. For them, the Depression was but another of the ordeals of? fear and insecurity with which they were sadly familiar.
????? Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal wrung from the trauma of the 1930s a lasting legacy of economic and social reform, including the Social Security Act, new banking and financial laws, regulatory legislation, and new opportunities for organized labor. Taken together, those reforms gave a measure of security to millions of Americans who had never had much of it, and with it a fresh sense of having a stake in their country.
????? Freedom From Fear tells the story of the New Deal's achievements, without slighting its shortcomings, contradictions, and failures. It is a story rich in drama and peopled with unforgettable personalities, including the incandescent but enigmatic figure of Roosevelt himself.
????? Even as the New Deal was coping with the Depression, a still more fearsome menace was developing abroad--Hitler's thirst for war in Europe, coupled with the imperial ambitions of Japan in Asia. The same generation of Americans who battled? the Depression eventually had to shoulder arms in another conflict that wreaked world wide destruction, ushered in the nuclear age, and forever changed their own way of life and their country's relationship to the rest of the world. Freedom From Fear explains 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.
???? Freedom From Fear is a comprehensive and colorful account of the most convulsive period in American history, excepting only the Civil War--a period that formed the crucible in which modern America was formed.

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:

  • 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
  • Freedom From Fear
    A fabulous reference for the era of the "Great Depression" and the F. D. Roosevelt administration (1933-1945)....more info
  • An authentic picture of a crucial period in history.
    David Kennedy captures the whole sweep of the momentous events of the 30s and early 40s and gives the reader a thorough immersion in the lives, the trials, and the attitudes of Americans who lived through that era. This is more than just a book of facts. As one who was born and grew up during those troubled times, I renewed many memories as I read, but I also gained new insights into the background of the events that shaped a new world.

    Perhaps the passage that impressed me most is Kennedy's evaluation of the real legacy of Roosevelt's New Deal. No, it did not really end the depression, and it was hardly the political triumph that most people seem to imagine today. But it did make giant steps in achieving what the book's title indicates: Freedom from Fear, as government began to play a more direct part in the personal lives of Americans--to some extent leveling the playing field for those without the advantages of wealth and birth.

    Overall this is a monumental work, well-written, intelligent, and comprehensive. I recommend it highly to anyone who really wants to understand the Depression and war years....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
  • Excellent Overview of the Depression and WWII Era
    This is simultaneously a very thick book and a masterpiece of compression. Kennedy accomplishes the difficult task of combining judicious analysis of major issues with comprehensive narrative. There is no other book to which this volume can be compared and there will be no competitor for years to come. The quality of writing is excellent and Kennedy's use of primary and secondary source material is remarkable. It is also noteworthy that this book is Volume IX of the projected ten volume Oxford History of the United States. Each volume published to date; Middlekauf's excellent book on the Revolutionary era, McPherson's wonderful book on the Civil War, and the fine volume by Patterson on recent American history, are excellent stand alone books. As a unit, they comprise a remarkable achievement....more info
  • 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
  • A Masterwork by a Master Historian
    It is not often that one has the privilege of reading a historical masterpiece. David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear affords us that rare opportunity. This is one of those unique histories which transcends its genre, becoming at once art and literature behind the unseen hand of the master storyteller. The very attempt to write of America in the transformative years 1929-1945 would daunt the greatest writers. The wonder of this achievement is that it so elegantly and lucidly tells the story, with such apparent ease, of two great wars -- the Great Depression and World War II. Most importantly Kennedy throughout maintains his ultimate perspective - the American people, the highest and the most 'ordinary', shown against the backdrop of enormously complex domestic and international events. If you want to learn (and teach, as I do) about this period of enormous upheaval in 20th century America, this is the book.

    To the specifics. Kennedy in his prologue places the major players in their respective, middling stations on November 11, 1918: Lance Corporal Hitler in hospital; munitions minister Churchill staring at Big Ben chiming 11:00; commissar Stalin "dealing" with counterrevolutionaries; Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt awakening to a riotous din of celebration. Kennedy tells us Hoover's official theory of the Depression: "The primary cause of the Great Depression was the war of 1914-1918." But Kennedy wisely notes that the Depression was sui generis, "thus far [resisting] comprehensive explanation".

    Then in a lightning succession of almost breathtaking chapters, Kennedy gives us just that. He leads us through the fateful years with exhaustive unobtrusive scholarship, tinged at times with irony, mostly tempered with empathy. One cannot read this book and not feel a reverence for this land and its people, as the author undoubtedly intended.

    Though the facts pour forth furiously, we glide through them, rendered as they are into good old plain English. As we progress through each chapter, the suspense builds unfailingly toward a dramatic, sometimes breathless, climax. This is a whale of a page-turner. Thus, for example, "an epidemic of failures flashed through the banking system" and the "suspension of the Bank of the United States represented the largest bank failure in American history...[holding] the savings of some 400,000 persons." Then at the end of the chapter, "Panic": "In short order, what was still in 1931 called the depression was about to become the unprecedented calamity known to history as the Great Depression."

    Hoover, in 1928 "the most competent man in America, maybe in the world", did everything wrong. FDR, "master reconciler" coined the simple phrase that would give a name to an era, "I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people." Nobody knew what it meant. More apt, perhaps, was his exhortation to "above all, try something." Thus, the hundred days of furious activity in the capital, while the nation continued to fall precipitously into the brink. A cartoon showed a farmer shaking the hand of a tall, erect, standing FDR: "Yes, you remembered me." But it was of course the war that 'saved' the farmer and in fact the world.

    The second half of the book takes us through World War II with remarkable insight into the key diplomatic, geopolitical and military events that shaped its ends. While "America slid back into its historic attitude of isolationism", Hitler "feared nothing from the United States." While Chamberlain parroted "peace in our time", Churchill fulminated that "this is only the beginning of the reckoning." But while America was becoming "the great arsenal of democracy", in FDR's words, the Great Depression began to end. Kennedy again shows an uncanny talent for placing the specific into the context of the great. In 1937, he notes, "America turned out 4.8 million cars, Japan 26,000." The importance? In Stalin's words, "the most important things in this war are machines....The United a country of machines." Kennedy condemns the perfidy of the disaster at Pearl Harbor, but rightly places it in its broader context as "systemic, pervasive...embedded in a tangle of only partially thought-out strategic assumptions...colored by smug attitudes of racial superiority." The drug-addicted Hitler is not informed of D-Day until noon. Such details, running throughout the book, bring to mind Richard III's kingdom for a horse, juxtaposing the small against the large, leading to disaster (some for us, most for 'them').

    Due respect is finally accorded the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese (segregated) unit that conspicuously distinguished itself, while Americans of Japanese ancestry were interned at home in concentration camps, again a touch of the great empathy of the author for often forgotten Americans.

    Finally, the striking photos are integral to the theme of the American in the time of his greatest trial. Standing alone, they expose much of the history Kennedy explains. The cheering mobs in Philadelphia on November 11, 1918; a "we cater to white trade only" sign; a vast breadline in New York; "Okies" in California; Hoover's pursed lips and narrowed eyes as he sits uncomfortably next to FDR; FDR speaking to a North Dakota farmer from his open car; Ford goons breaking a strike; FDR with brain trusters Ickes, Wallace, Hopkins; the demagogues Long, Lewis, Coughlin; Hitler giving a Nazi salute with a smug Goering below him. The war photos are equally evocative, a Marine's face at Palau; Ike speaking to men on the eve of D-Day, "fearing that he was sending most of these men to their deaths"; Buchenwald; "Little Boy"; and Churchill, Truman and Stalin smiling with hands clasped at Potsdam. In sum, if there is any book you should read about this monumental era, it is this book....more info

  • Far too negative on Roosevelt and the "New Deal"
    I know it is chic to resite the non-accomplishments of past or current world leaders, but this is too much. For 362 pages we read that Roosevelt did nothing right, that he careened from crisis to crisis, never did anything than had any effect on the economic problems of the times, did nothing for Labor or Farming, attacked Business on every possible occation, destroyed the Military, lied to the American People to win re-election in 1936, tried to destroy the Supreme Court, etc. It is hard to find anything that the author thinks Roosevelt did right!

    We then read 18 pages on how great and meaningful the results of the New Deal were and how they not only changed the country, but saved democracy as we know it!

    I can't wait to find out how Roosevelt lost the Second World War. I am sure he did it all by himself!...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
  • Very good
    I'm one of those people who enjoy historical fiction like The Triumph and the Glory, Exodus, or From Here to Eternity over history books, but Mr. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear is so well done that I not only bought a copy for my library, I read it too! That's high praise from someone who normally avoids nonfiction histories....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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • I hated to put the book down.
    As one who was born and lived in D.C. during this era,I was overwhelmed with the memories and drama of that period. Mr. Kennedy corrected several misunderstandings I had regarding Mr. Hoover (who,image aside,was a man of greatness), and corroberated many of my feelings and rememberances of the avuncular Mr. Roosevelt (our "2nd father"). Writing with significant skill and intelligence, Mr. Kennedy clarified complex issues such as the causes of the Great Depression and the cause and effect of the U.S. abandoning the gold standard. His depiction of the suffering of the unemployed was almost poetic. I really enjoyed this one....more info
  • Why Americans Hate History
    This ponderous, tedious, self-righteous, jingoist, militaristic trumpeting can only appeal to members of the Kiwanis club or subscribers to the Atlantic Monthly or unfortunates who think Tom Brokaw is a journalist. While Six Million Died: A Chronicle Of American Apathy. By, Arthur D. Morse, is a flat refutation of Kennedy's loving portrayal of the banality of evil....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
  • Exceptional and Extraordinary
    A complete and accurate rendering of American society and the trends that the Depression and the War had on everyday life for the masses. Throughout the book there are very detailed and colorful explanations that make this the must have for anyone who wants to know how typical Americans thought and behaved during the Roosevelt era. This book is a masterpiece and is the defining work for this particular era....more info
  • Superb history of an era that changed the country.
    As one who grew up in D.C. during this remarkable era, I felt that I was "meeting old friends" again. Mr. Kennedy lucidly and interestingly explains the issues of the time, and gives us clear portraits of most of the important participants with particular focus on Franklin Roosevelt. His descriptions and explanations of the great President's beliefs, and stragedies and actions contributed to a greater understanding by me of this unbelievably, precedent shattering time. I loved this book,and was literally informed and entertained on every page....more info
  • Required reading for anyone seeking facts about this era!
    Freedom From Fear is an amazing collection of information regarding the tumultuous time period spanning 1929-1945. Kennedy presents a balanced, pragmatic view of the political and social issues of the day that have often been revised and twisted beyond recognition by others. I especially enjoyed how Kennedy addressed many controversial rumors regarding WWII, including events surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the race to develop atomic weapons. Some sections regarding monetary policy, the gold standard, etc., were sometimes tedious, but most of the time I could hardly wait to turn the page! I recommend this book to anyone interested in American and world history, but especially to those not old enough to have lived through the Great Depression and WWII....more info
  • At once, sweeping and intimate
    This is the definitive history of the most challenging period in American history since the Civil War. David Kennedy's history is a portrait of a resilient people weathering economic havoc and surviving to find themselves in a war to save civilization itself. "Freedom From Fear" is a rare survey history that manages to be a page-turner. By the end of the book, the United States has matured into the preeminent world power, but American society has yet to face up to its deepest failings.

    In addition to a sweeping history, Professor Kennedy gives the reader a sensitive biography of Herbert Hoover, the right man to serve the country as president but in power at the wrong time. Also, his portraits of the heroes and knaves of the Depression and World War II eras are always revealing and compelling....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
  • Extremely Well Written
    Kennedy brings WWII to life better than any other author I have read. I would recommend this extremely well written book to both novice and historian. If you like history, this book will make you love it. Out of its 850 pages, very few are uninteresting....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
  • Good. Extensive review of political and economic policy.
    I am half way through this book and it has been kind of hard to read since I am more interested in the experience of the American people than all of the policies (both economic and political) of the era. I am looking forward to reading Lorena Hickok's account of the depression more than this book. If you are deeply interested in political and economic policies of the FDR presidency this is the book for you. If not, try something a little less wordy....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