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

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Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. This book tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities.

The Depression was both a disaster and an opportunity. As David Kennedy vividly demonstrates, the economic crisis of the 1930s was far more than a simple reaction to the alleged excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before 1929, America's unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, wastefully consuming capital and inflicting untold misery on city and countryside alike.

Freedom From Fear explores how the nation agonized over its role in World War II, how it fought the war, why the United States won, and why the consequences of victory were sometimes sweet, sometimes ironic. In a compelling narrative, Kennedy analyzes the determinants of American strategy, the painful choices faced by commanders and statesmen, and the agonies inflicted on the millions of ordinary Americans who were compelled to swallow their fears and face battle as best they could.

Both comprehensive and colorful, this account of the most convulsive period in American history, excepting only the Civil War, reveals a period that formed the crucible in which modern America was formed.

The Oxford History of the United States

The Atlantic Monthly has praised The Oxford History of the United States as "the most distinguished series in American historical scholarship," a series that "synthesizes a generation's worth of historical inquiry and knowledge into one literally state-of-the-art book. Who touches these books touches a profession."
Conceived under the general editorship of one of the leading American historians of our time, C. Vann Woodward, The Oxford History of the United States blends social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history into coherent and vividly written narrative. Previous volumes are Robert Middlekauff's The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution; James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (which won a Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times Best Seller); and James T. Patterson's Grand Expectations: The United States 1945-1974 (which won a Bancroft Prize).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A grand historical synthesis...this is the kind of book prizes are made for."—Chicago Tribune

"This is modern America's story—modern America's most thrilling, most irresistible, and most significant story—and in this massive volume, David M. Kennedy makes it his story in a way that no one has before. Freedom From Fear, the fourth installment of the new Oxford History of the United States to appear, is as much a triumph as its predecessors, providing every indication that the series, once completed, will stand as the most comprehensive and most compelling narrative history of the nation." —Boston Globe

"Rarely does a work of historical synthesis combine such trenchant analysis and elegant writing as does Kennedy's spectacular contribution to the Oxford History of the United States. Kennedy uses a wide canvas to depict all aspects of the American political, social and economic experience from 1929 to 1945. He also provides a stunningly original reinterpretation of the competing forces and interests that combined to shape the New Deal under FDR's direction. The book's final 400 pages admirably demonstrate exactly how the U.S. emerged victorious in WWII.... Because of its scope, its insight and its purring narrative engine, Kennedy's book will stand for years to come as the definitive history of the most important decades of the American Century." —Publishers Weekly

"An engrossing narrative of a momentous time. The best one-volume account of the Roosevelt era currently available.... Good old-fashioned history."— The New York Times Book Review

"An indispensable account of the two great formative events of 20th century American history—the Great Depression and the second World War."—The Economist

"The book...has my strong approval. As it will have, I cannot doubt, that of the many readers it deserves."—John C. Gilbraith, The Washington Monthly

"An invaluable compendium of the hyperactive period that contains the Great depression and the Second World War."—The Washington Times

"Kennedy's book is the most illuminating, riveting, comprehensive, and graceful one-volume history of this nation's experiences during the Great Depression, New Deal, and WWII published to date.... This is social, political, dipolmatic, and military history written magisterially with broad but nuanced strokes across a 16-year span that utterly transformed the lives of Americans and the world.... Librarians should order this book for their libraries, faculty members should assign it, and everyone should read it."—Choice

"Kennedy's grasp of deep-rooted social problems and his enlightening, analytical style are very much in evidence.... [he] brilliantly explores the conflicting nuances of [Roosevelt's] character and program.... Kennedy has achieved a judicious balance in his treatment of the Depression and the military operations and diplomatic maneuvers of World War II. His narrative style is in the grand tradition of American historical writing, an unfaltering display of clarity and detail."—Philadephia Inquirer

"No other book so vividly captures the spirit of those 17 years that forever changed America."— Christian Science Monitor

"One of our most broad-gauged American historians brings us that increasing rarity: a big book about a big subject.... The Stanford scholar takes on the job of tracing the American people through three of the most important and important and widely written about epochs in the century...and provides us with consistently original and sometimes startling conclusions."—The Washington Post

"A major achievement in objective historical writing that should be a legacy to generations of students seeking authoritative reference material on the period."—Kirkus Reviews

"David absolutely masterful in this literate and lively history of the American people in the Depression and World War II."—The Waterbury Republican-American

"From its dramatic prelude depicting Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, and Joseph Stalin hearing the news of the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, to its moving climax on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, this panoramic narrative pulses with life, color, incident, and action. We know how it all comes out, yet the fate of the nation seems to hang in the balance as Kennedy captures history's throat-catching contingency." —Jack Beatty, author of The Rascal King: The Life and Times of James Michael Curley and The World According to Peter Drucker

"We expect the best from David Kennedy and he will not disappoint anybody with this competent, complete and literate volume. Covering a time of large and intense change, it is all here. A major and thoroughly fine piece of work."—John Kenneth Galbraith

Freedom from Fear brings together in one place the epic story of how America faced the greatest challenges in its history. At a time when we tend to bemoan our selfish preoccupations, it is bracing to read David Kennedy's moving account of our better selves. This is history the way it ought to be.— Alan Wolfe, Boston University, author of One Nation After All

"Displaying a literary craft uncommon in survey works, he has woven together narrative, sketches of character, and critical judgment to record and analyze the economic, political, social, and military events of these epic years.... This account of the crucial struggles and events of the Depression and war years will lend perspective like few others."—Library Journal

"David Kennedy is one of America's most distinguished historians, and Freedom from Fear is a remarkable achievement: deeply researched, insightful, and beautifully written. Fast-paced, it presents vivid portraits of major actors such as Roosevelt, Churchill, and Hitler, as well as of the hopes and fears of millions of lesser-known people caught up in the tumultuous years of the Great Depression and of World War II."—James T. Patterson, Bancroft Prize-winning author of Grand Expectations

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195038347
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 6/11/1999
  • Series: Oxford History of the United States Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 990
  • Sales rank: 328,004
  • Lexile: 1460L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.56 (w) x 6.56 (h) x 2.40 (d)

Meet the Author

David M. Kennedy is Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History at Stanford University. He is the author of Over Here: The First World War and American Society, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Birth Control in America: The Career of Margaret Sanger, which won a Bancroft Prize. He lives in Stanford, California.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 1999

    Oxford Does It Again...

    David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear does for the Depression and World War II what James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom did for the Civil War. Freedom From Fear is a masterly account of the most tumultuous times for this country in the 20th Century. Both accounts are separate, yet somehow inexorably linked. Kennedy closely examines the depression and the agony it inflicted on the people. His history of World War II is simply superb. He handles this massive array of material with ease and the book is beautifully written. This book should be read by any who wish to understand those times.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2006

    Good, not great

    This book was at its best when explaining the ecomomic, industrial, and political reasons for the Depression, and the policies that led up to war in the Pacific. The author also did a good job of explaining what life was like for the poor before the Depression and how it had changed little since Reconstruction. The rest of the book was average, in my opinion. The details of FDR's new deal and the various agencies created became a jumble of acronyms that lost meaning. His discussion of WWII - especially in Europe - added very little new information. The title of the book was also mis-leading. I expected more insight into the lives of everyday Americans and soldiers. There was far too little of that and far too much standard Depression and WWII historical information in the book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2002


    There's not much I can say that other reviewers haven't already mentioned. I will say that Kennedy approaches history from 3 angles: (1) Historical facts; (2) Political forces influencing certain events; (3) The effects of the historical events on the people living through those times. Kennedy, in addressing point (2) for example gives a very good discussion on the causes of the Great Depression, the forces in Germany that allowed Hitler to come to power, the thinking in Japan that led to the attack on the US, the thinking of FDR in fighting the depression and an assessment of his performance. In addressing point (3), Kennedy provides rich insights into how people lived in the 1920's, the Great Depression, and WW2. He talks extensively about important socio-political issues such as women in the workforce, different races in the military, the treatment of Japanese-Americans, the feelings of Americans toward Hoover and Roosevelt, etc. It is a long book, and not all the reading is quick and smooth, but the information is there and the writing style is excellent. Allow yourself a month to get through it and absorb it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2001

    Wonderful and engrossing coverage of this period in our history.

    This, perhaps, was the most interesting and intense period in U.S. history. I've read numerous books and articles covering this subject matter and I believe David Kennedy's treatment of it is among the best. I concur with the reviews for the hard cover copy of this work.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2000

    Kennedy won't let us forget history's lessons

    As a former student of Professor Kennedy's at Stanford, I confess bias. Nevertheless, David illuminates America's past like no other historian, contemporary or past. He has a unique talent for captivating readers, setting the stage and making the reader feel they are at ringside. We often forget the ordeal and emotion of the Great Depression and World War II, the Fireside Chats, Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Roosevelt and Hiroshima. Kennedy has painstakingly researched this book, inserting commentaries from those who made history plus his own penetrating insights. You will find balance and fairness here, not partisan rhetoric or pedantry. Hoover was in many respects ahead of his time (although some accuse Kennedy wrongfully of a Stanford bias), McArthur knew how to stroke the PR machinery, Roosevelt was a shrewd politician, Churchill was a master manipulator, Stalin a man whose patience ran thin waiting for a promised Second Front. Other great portraits include John L. Lewis, Huey Long, Father Coughlin, General Patton ... what a great read! Buy this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2001


    This book not only is wonderful in its content but the presentation of words by Kennedy is spectacular. For example he describes Truman as a man as staight forward as a sentence without a comma. Read this book and you will be a long way towards being an expert on this most spectacular period in our country's history.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2000

    Sweepingly engrossing reading

    I found this book enthralling, even tho I have read heaps on the subjects covered by it. The treatment of the New Deal is full of things I had not known much about, such as the genesis of Social Security. The account of the war rivals what I have always thought the best one volume history thereof, Robert Leckie's Delivered From Evil: The Saga of World War II.

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