Book: Freedom from Fear

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Book:

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

Author: David M. Kennedy
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Publisher: Oxford University Press

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…

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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

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