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Greetings,

Here is my second critical review for HIST 912 Comprehensive Examination and Readings in Modern America,

Kennedy, David. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 . Kindle Edition.

Kennedy’s, Freedom from Fear, won the Pulitzer Prize and is part of the Oxford History of the United States series. His book offers a gripping narrative during a pivotal epoch that shaped America; the Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War – the “Good War”. Harvard Sitkoff considered this age to be the “most momentous era in the twentieth-century United States.”[1] Kennedy’s talent for blending historical facts with compelling storytelling can be perused in his other notable works, Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger [1970] and Over Here: The First World War and American Society [1981]). Throughout its 464 pages, Kennedy uses rich character descriptive skills, e.g., “Louis McHenry Howe… a crater-eyed, gnarled, wheezing homunculus”. This whimsical style informs as well as entertains the reader (96).

Kennedy, professor of history at Stanford University, gives a scrutinizing view illustrating scope and intricacy into the social developments, economics, military, and political events between 1929-1945. His analyses and writing style provide both intrigue and desire to keep turning the pages as he discusses the events of that era, such as the 1928 stock market crash and the subsequent presidential power drain by Hoover, the ensuing global Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s election and his key economic and social reform projects; which were intended to give the American public and its financial system a sense of “security” while reducing their “panic” and “fears”. Kennedy then segues into the primary characters of World War II: Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, the “great men” whom this book is centered around.

November 11, 1918, the ending of The Great War, opens the book and establishes the effects the War had on shaping each of the protagonists, and binds this catastrophic event to the Great Depression, World War II, thus revealing the global role the “great men” had on shaping multiple nationals and affecting millions of people. Kennedy argues, the Treaty of Versailles was the catalyst for the Great Depression. He alleges this was a direct result of the severe reparations levied against Germany. He then presented a lengthy discussion on the stock market crash, the beginnings of the Great Depression, and President Herbert Hoover, who was elected in, “A new era… a land and time of special promise”, who proposed corrective measures against the Depression that were ineffective (13). Kennedy’s macro focus implies the War created both the crash and the Depression. He does not validate the nation’s financial collapse was the sole impetus that drove the Depression. “Perhaps”, he stated, “the most imperishable misconception portrays the Crash as the cause of the Great Depression” (38).

Throughout the narrative one gets the impression Kennedy is more attentive to edifying a reliable story than engaging in academic or historiographical argument. Garth Davis alleged Kennedy’s methodology, “ will vex some of his peers but please the more general audience.”[2] It is through his adept technique that Kennedy pilots the reader through the vast transformations of the Roosevelt administrations, the “New Deal” with its new political thought, powers, and departments. New programs, he indicated, such as Roosevelt’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) were derived from Hoover’s Federal Farm Board and the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929 (204).

Additionally, Kennedy demonstrated how Trade Unions, State and Federal courts butted heads with FDR as he blurred the lines of constitutional law with new policies, which increased the reach of federal powers.

Moreover, Kennedy looked at tensions between isolationists, internationalists, the World Court, Nazism, Fascism and Japanese aggression, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the creation of the Grand Alliance, and Roosevelt’s belief he should be “weaning Americans ever so slightly from the complacent parochialism they had reembraced after the debacle of the Great War (233). Furthermore, Kennedy indicated, America’s industrial muscle won the war with its ability to out-produce its enemies. “By 1944… The United States was then producing 60 percent of the Allies’ munitions and 40 percent of all the world’s arms…and supplied as much as 10 percent of Russia’s military needs” (654).

Kennedy’s book provided new insight into Hoover’s role in America and the varied aspects of the global effect of WW II, yet his discussion on FDR’s New Deal is well discussed. Though the book is well written and engaging, with a mix of primary and secondary sources. Sitkoff remarked, Kennedy’s pages on the New Deal…will spur little revising of textbooks.[3] Clarence Lange remarks, for a book about the “American people [it] contains surprisingly little about them.”[4] While Philip Zelikow suggest, “ many readers should enjoy the nonpartisan, informed, and thoughtful judgments of a historian working at the height of his craft”.[5]

Overall, it was the “Good War” and not the New Deal that ended the Depression. According to C. Vann Woodward, “the New Deal constructed an institutional framework…. What it did not do was to end the Great Depression and restore prosperity…[it took] ironic work of a terrible war” (xix). Lang suggested the war demonstrated “how the state could promote economic growth.”[6]

The book primarily discussed the influence of the “Great Men” and how their actions, good or bad, helped to provoke the country out of the WW I depression paralysis and onto the world stage and into prosperity.

Bibliography

Davies, Gareth. “Review:Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945. By David M. Kennedy.” The Historical Journal 43, no. 2, 2000: 595-600. doi:10.1017/S0018246X99231044.

Kennedy, David. Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999 . Kindle Edition.

Lang, Clarence. ” “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy.” Political Science Quarterly 115, no. 3 , 2000: 449-451. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/doi/epdf/10.2307/2658129.

Sitkoff, Harvard. “Reviewed Work: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War; 1929-1945 by David Kennedy.” The American Historical Review 105, no. 3, 2000: 954-55.doi:10.2307/2651898.

Zelikow, Philip. “Reviewed Work: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy.” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 6, 1999: 149.

  1. Harvard Sitkoff. “Reviewed Work: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War; 1929-1945 by David Kennedy.” The American Historical Review 105, no. 3, (2000): 954-55.
  2. Gareth Davies. “Review: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929–1945. By David M. Kennedy.” The Historical Journal 43, no. 2, (2000): 595-600.
  3. Harvard Sitkoff. “Reviewed Work: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War; 1929-1945by David Kennedy.” The American Historical Review 105, no. 3, (2000):955.
  4. Clarence Lang. “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy.” Political Science Quarterly 115, no. 3 , (2000): 450.
  5. Philip Zelikow, “Reviewed Work: Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy.” Foreign Affairs 78, no. 6, 1999: 149.
  6. Clarence Lang. “Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy.” Political Science Quarterly 115, no. 3 , (2000): 450.