New York Times best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Michael Hiltzik tells the epic story of the New Deal through the outsized personalities of the people who fought for it, opposed it, and benefited from it, rendering vital lessons for our own time.
As America struggles with an economic debacle akin to the Great Depression, nothing could be timelier than an authoritative account of the New Deal, masterfully written by Michael Hiltzik, author of the acclaimed history of the Hoover Dam, Colossus.
In this richly peopled, vividly rendered narrative, Hiltzik describes how the urgent short-term relief measures of Franklin Roosevelt’s Hundred Days evolved into a transformative concept of the federal role in American life. Rather than the product of a single ideology, the New Deal emerged from the clash of ideas held by advisors from very different backgrounds. With historical and psychological insight, Hiltzik sheds light on the lives of the gargantuan characters who fought for and against it: Herbert Hoover, whose own administration gave birth to many of the programs that would become part of the New Deal; General Hugh Johnson, the West Pointer whose pugnacious leadership of the National Recovery Administration symbolized the New Deal for millions of Americans; Harry Hopkins, whose closeness to Roosevelt earned him the moniker “deputy president”; and many other fascinating figures. What emerges is a saga of how FDR managed to recast the federal government into something that still inspires: a unifying structure with the concept of social justice at its heart.
©2011 Michael Hiltzik (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
It's like every generation must fight the same battles over and over. This look into FDR's challenges with unbridled greed and avarice are not all that different than the challenges we all face today. Expertly written with a wonderful historical perspective. The facts as always speak for themselves.
Michael Hiltzik has produced an excellent New Deal History. He brings to life New Deal personages, such as General Hugh Johnson, Harod Ickes, Adolph Berle, Benjamin Cohen and Terence Corcoran, Ferdinand Pecora; the agencies and events and professional relationships & politics they were involved in and the social climate that made their decisions, for good or ill, so urgent. The book is convincing in explaining the limits of the New Deal, and pointing out, where, with hindsight, it could have done better. The chapter on race in the New Deal years,"The Most Forgotten Man", was especially sharp and insightful. The concluding chapter is an excellent review of the politics of the New Deal, and reminds the reader why the history of the new deal is especially relevant to understanding the process of political change today. The book is beautifully written, and the gravel tinged voice of the spoken narration was perfect.
Why did people of my grandparents’ generation speak so reverentially of Franklin Roosevelt? Why do contemporary Republicans harbor such resentment of the man, that they continually invent factitious ways discredit him? Why does the phrase “New Deal” evoke such vehemence across the political spectrum nearly a century after it ceased to have direct political relevance? I’m generally not much interested in politics, but these questions, occurring and reoccurring over the years, finally led me to find a concise and reliable history of the New Deal and the tumultuous era that brought it into existence.
There are plenty of books about the New Deal, written by a variety of authors. Unfortunately many of these writers have a political ax to grind. The titles of their books are often revealing. “FDR’S Folly”, for example, leaves little doubt about its author’s viewpoint. A quick glance at its pages confirms that there’s little more to learn inside. Books that focus only on the New Deal’s successes, while ignoring its problems, were equally useless for my purposes.
So, it was a delight to come across Michael Hiltzig’s book. “The New Deal: A Modern History”, now available from Audible.com, as well as in print, offers the kind of honest and objective analysis I was seeking. While it’s clear that Hiltzig admires FDR and approves of many of the New Deal’s innovations, he’s not blind to its flaws, nor does he overlook shortcomings in Roosevelt himself, when these become relevant. For instance he devotes an entire chapter (“Nine Old Men”) to Roosevelt’s rocky relationship with the U.S. Supreme Court, at that time dominated by an ultra-conservative faction of aging justices. FDR’s ill-considered and ultimately disastrous attempt to “pack” the Court with younger, more tractable jurists was one of the worst mistakes of his political career. Hiltzig is unflinching in identifying the characteristics that led Roosevelt to undertake this scheme.
Objectivity isn’t the book’s only virtue. Hiltzig is thorough, describing not just flagship programs like Social Security and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), but also less familiar parts of the New Deal such as Federal One, an arts program that supported an astonishing array of literature, music, and drama, as well as more conventional art works, many by artists, now famous, who might never have made it without the New Deal’s crucial assistance.
More than anything, the New Deal was an institution of people, from the thousands who benefited from its programs to the dedicated individuals, many of them recruited by Roosevelt himself, who made those programs work. Hiltzig weaves their stories into his narrative, giving the book a crucial human dimension and at the same time demonstrating his skill as a writer. I was impressed by the way he composes long, complex sentences, while retaining a flexible flow of ideas. His command of language, including his extensive vocabulary, is sophisticated, but not pretentious.
In this respect the audio version of the book is helped immeasurably by a superb reading from Traber Burns. Urbane and graceful, Burns manages to give characteristic voicing to a wide range of individuals, including Roosevelt himself, without becoming obvious or heavy handed. While I probably wouldn’t buy a book solely on the strength of its narrator, given a choice between readers, I would certainly pick Mr. Burns.
Start to finish, I loved this book. If you’re interested in history or if you just want to know more about the New Deal, I can’t think of a better investment.
Life's too short to read bad books.
I didn't listen all the way through, but from what I heard, it wasn't all that exciting. I was disappointed.
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