When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, more than 10,000 banks had gone under following the Crash of 1929, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, and riots were breaking out at garbage dumps as people fought over scraps of food. Before the 100 days, the federal government was limited in scope and ambition; by the end, it had assumed an active responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens.
Adam Cohen provides an illuminating group portrait of the five members of FDR's inner circle who, more than any others, drove this unprecedented transformation. These five men and women frequently pushed FDR to embrace more radical programs than he would have otherwise. FDR came to the White House with few firm commitments about how to resolve this national crisis - as a politician he was more pragmatic than ideological and, perhaps surprising given his New Deal legacy, a fiscal conservative by nature. Instead, he relied heavily on his advisers and preferred when they had conflicting views so that he could choose the best option among them. For this reason, he kept in close confidence both Frances Perkins - a feminist before her time and the strongest advocate for social welfare programs - and Lewis Douglas, an entrenched budget cutter who frequently clashed with the other members of FDR's progressive inner circle.
Rather than commit to a single solution or ideology, FDR favored a policy of "bold, persistent experimentation". As a result, he presided over the most feverish period of government activity in American history, one that gave birth to modern America.The political fault lines of this era - welfare, government regulation, agriculture policy - remain with us today.
©2008 Adam Cohen; (P)2009 Tantor
"A crucial human story which goes beyond that found in most FDR biographies." (Library Journal)
"An elucidating, pertinent and timely work on the makings of government." (Kirkus)
I have been reading about Roosevelt and his presidency for the last few months. There are many books about Roosevelt and his leadership, but where some of them are weak, it is that they focus too much on the man, and too little on those with whom he worked, and sometimes too little on policy.
Nothing to Fear is an account of the fabled first 100 days of Roosevelt's first term, and the characters who came together to make it.
Nothing to Fear exemplifies good story telling, with policy and human interest finely balanced. While we are introduced to the origins and development of Henry Wallace, Stevens, Perkins, Hopkins, Moley, etc, we are then, in the epilogue learn about their diverse fates.
In one review the author was taken to task for not assimilating more recent views of Hoover into his account. This doesn't hold up. There is an ongoing discussion about Hoover, his limitations, and his belief in the role of government.
These profiles indicate that the reforms of the New Deal were not merely the work of a great man, but resulted from the coming together of many who reached similar conclusions about the role of government. Despite Hoover's brilliance, he did not share the view that government should intervene in the economy, and this transformation could not have happened during his tenure.
The profiles of Frances Perkins and Henry Wallace were especially interesting, and despite my previous reading, I had no idea of the important role of Frances Perkins as an architect of Social Security.
I hope the author is working on a follow up.
This is an excellent book about politics and the politics of crisis management. It shows that the president, in this case FDR, does not do everything, and that what goes on in the White House and the Executive Office building & the cabinet departments is much more heterogeneous and complex than you might think from reading the newspaper or listening to the radio (in that day) or watching pundits on TV or reading narrowly-focused websites (in this day). I particularly liked the author's focus on the key advisors of FDR's first year, some of whom stayed with him, some dropped off later and at least one or two became vociferous opponents later on. You can see how their "politics" and "ideologies" were formed and how those pre-set features played out flexibly or inflexibly in 1933. I am puzzled by the earlier review that suggested the author spent too much time on Frances Perkins. My impression is that she got just enough, and no more than Rexford Tugwell and the others.
The experience of 1933 is relevant to the current time, as well, so there is no reason to leave off some of the author's thoughts about how we can use the 1933 experience to help us understand the 2008-2010 experience. That does not mean that the actual policies of 1933 could be used to remedy our current economic malaise (and the policies of 1933, as shown by the book, were internally contradictory in any case). But an understanding of the complexity of the policymaking process, in normal times and in times of crisis, is a good tonic to help understand what is happening now.
Well narrated too.
This was a good read but really focused on Roosevelt's cabinet, not Roosevelt, himself. The author spent too much time on Perkins. Toward the end of the book, the author gets involved in a little Bush and Republican bashing which really is unecessary in what is supposed to be a historical account, not a political memoir.
It was a good history of the 100 days period. However, sometimes the overall story got lost in backstory of some of the figures. It seemed like some of the cabinet members were covered a lot more than others, maybe those which interested the author most. But what it covers, it covers well.
The story could have given more of Roosevelts personality not just certain of his cabinet members.
Tell us about yourself!
Written as a narrative, this is very easy to listen to. This is one of my top 5 audio books! Highly recommended.
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