Freedom from Fear

The sixteen years between 1929 and 1945 were some of the most difficult and turbulent in American history. In Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, the newest volume in the award-winning Oxford History of the United States series, Stanford University history professor David M. Kennedy chronicles the history of the era spanning the Great Depression, New Deal, and World War II.

In addition to his skillfully crafted narrative, in which he weaves together the important social, political, economic, diplomatic, and military events, Kennedy engages in some provocative historical analysis as well. He argues, for example, that uncontrollable economic forces in the United States and Europe following World War I were more to blame for the Great Depression than the policies of President Herbert Hoover, and the programs of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, although they would shape and influence American life for three generations, did little to turn around the American economy of the 1930’s. Kennedy describes the impact of the Depression on ordinary Americans in vivid detail, including the enormous sense of anxiety and fear among the people as Franklin Roosevelt comes to power and attempts to quickly deal with the terrible economic crisis he had inherited.

Utilizing the Roosevelt presidency as his setting, Kennedy explores the causes of World War II beginning with the 1930’s, when most Americans felt strongly that the United States should remain neutral despite the gathering storm in Europe and Asia, to America’s sudden entrance into the war immediately after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan. Kennedy is at his narrative best as he takes the reader through the military and naval battles of the war, including life on the home front.

Despite its formidable length, the book remains entertaining, informative, and interesting throughout. Along with the other volumes in the series, Freedom from Fear is sure to become the cornerstone of many libraries’ American history collections.