Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created ModernAmerica

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When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, thousands of banks had gone under, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, farmers were in open rebellion, and hungry people had descended on garbage dumps. By the end of the Hundred Days, he and his inner circle had reinvented the role of the federal government and assumed active responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens. Adam Cohen offers a riveting group portrait of the five members of FDR's inner circle who played pivotal roles in this ...

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Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created ModernAmerica

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Overview

When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, thousands of banks had gone under, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, farmers were in open rebellion, and hungry people had descended on garbage dumps. By the end of the Hundred Days, he and his inner circle had reinvented the role of the federal government and assumed active responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens. Adam Cohen offers a riveting group portrait of the five members of FDR's inner circle who played pivotal roles in this unprecedented transformation.

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Editorial Reviews

David Greenberg
Cohen's well-told story belies the cliche about legislation and sausage-making: his narrative is absorbing and enjoyable to read. Admirably game to tackle the heavy-going details of policy making, Nothing to Fear is nonetheless decidedly nonacademic…One might say it's the kind of history you would expect from a newspaper editorialist.
—The New York Times Book Review
John Steele Gordon
Mr. Cohen…brings this brief but extraordinary period in American history to vivid life. An excellent writer and storyteller, he does so by concentrating not on its central figure, Roosevelt, but on a handful of his aides …Nothing to Fear is a fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in the life of the United States, indeed a page-turner.
—The New York Times
Matthew Dallek
…a valuable addition, a deeply sympathetic and thoroughly convincing portrait of FDR and five of his senior advisers that unearths how the aides' interactions with Roosevelt helped to spawn the New Deal.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

New York Times editorial board member Cohen (coauthor, American Pharaoh) delivers an exemplary and remarkably timely narrative of FDR's famous first "Hundred Days" as president. Providing a new perspective on an oft-told story, Cohen zeroes in on the five Roosevelt aides-de-camp whom he rightly sees as having been the most influential in developing FDR's wave of extraordinary actions. These were agriculture secretary Henry Wallace, presidential aide Raymond Moley, budget director Lewis Douglas, labor secretary Frances Perkins and Civil Works Administration director Harry Hopkins. This group, Cohen emphasizes, did not work in concert. The liberal Perkins, Wallace and Hopkins often clashed with Douglas, one of the few free-marketers in FDR's court. Moley hovered somewhere in between the two camps. As Cohen shows, the liberals generally prevailed in debates. However, the vital foundation for FDR's New Deal was crafted through a process of rigorous argument within the president's innermost circle rather than ideological consensus. Cohen's exhaustively researched and eloquently argued book provides a vital new level of insight into Roosevelt's sweeping expansion of the federal government's role in our national life. (Jan. 12)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This year marks the 75th anniversary of "The Hundred Days" in 1933 that signified the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt's assumption of the presidency. Cohen (assistant editorial page editor, New York Times; American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Dailey) displays his strong prose style and research skills in this story of the precedent set by FDR against which later Presidents are judged: the so-called honeymoon period after inauguration and before the media and the opposition inevitably begin to critique and attack. Cohen wisely tells the New Deal story through the biographies of five of its most important players: Raymond Moley and Lewis Douglas (director, bureau of the budget)-both of whom broke with FDR rather early on-and the more liberal Henry Wallace (secretary of agriculture), Frances Perkins (secretary of labor), and Harry Hopkins. The author presents FDR as a nonideological pragmatist who adapted to the times and the New Deal as an ad hoc program rather than a blueprint for the social welfare state. Frances Perkins, who served FDR the longest, emerges as the hero of the story. Though disliking the media and showing little interest in aiding congressional patronage, Perkins was the driving soul behind the New Deal. Cohen does not uncover new information, but he presents a crucial human story which goes beyond that found in most FDR biographies. Superbly readable and informative, this is an essential purchase for all public and academic libraries. The current financial meltdown and the eve of inaugurating a new president make it that much more timely a purchase.
—William D. Pederson

Kirkus Reviews
Journalist Cohen (The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, 2002, etc.) delves into the New Deal archives to fashion an elucidating, pertinent and timely work on the makings of government. The slew of progressive legislation passed during Franklin Roosevelt's first 100 days in office in 1933 broke with the old order of laissez faire economics and redefined the nature of government's responsibilities vis-a-vis its citizens. These policies had critics, to be sure, but they worked, Cohen notes, alleviating people's misery during the Great Depression by offering relief, jobs and, most important, hope. While FDR largely garnered the credit for the country's recovery-and aroused alarm with his autocratic proclamations and tactics-his handpicked minions worked tirelessly behind the scenes to forge the New Deal's landmark programs, often by trial and error. Cohen closely examines the five members of Roosevelt's inner circle who left the most lasting mark on the legislation forged during those 100 days, looking in turn at where they came from, how they gained the president's trust and how they used their experience to make history. Since the banking crisis was FDR's first concern, he chose trusted aide and speechwriter Raymond Moley to work alongside the Treasury Department on the Emergency Banking Act, which tackled the essential tension between spending more to fight the Depression and spending less to balance the budget. Budget Director Lewis Douglas, a conservative, pushed through Congress the Economy Act, a major budget-reduction measure, but he resigned in 1934 when Roosevelt took the country off the gold standard. Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace saved the farm belt with the AgriculturalAdjustment Act; Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, the first female Cabinet member, persuaded FDR to support her ambitious progressive agenda, including workers' rights protections; Harry Hopkins became the leading public-works administrator. Ambitious yet well focused-a marvelously readable study of an epic moment in American history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594201967
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/8/2009
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Cohen is assistant editorial page editor of The New York Times, where he has been a member of the editorial board since 2002. He was previously a senior writer at Time and is the author of The Perfect Store: Inside eBay and a coauthor of American Pharaoh, a biography of Mayor Richard J. Daley. Before entering journalism, Cohen was an education-reform lawyer, and he has a law degree from Harvard.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Action, and Action Now 13

Ch. 2 Moley! Moley! Moley! Lord God Almighty! 46

Ch. 3 The Hardest-Boiled Man in Washington 84

Ch. 4 Good Farming; Clear Thinking; Right Living 109

Ch. 5 Good Lord! This Is a Revolution! 133

Ch. 6 'Social Justice' ... Has Been the Maxim of Her Life 157

Ch. 7 Just So We Get a Public Works Program 195

Ch. 8 He Must Be Part of This Historic Show 248

Ch. 9 People Don't Eat in the Long Run - They Eat Every Day 265

Epilogue: "A Lot Happened Out of That Determination of a Few People, Didn't It?" 284

Notes 323

Index 363

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 19 of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2009

    Must read for History Buffs

    This is one of the few books on what an American President did in office that I have found compelled to continue reading it.
    It is very well written, well researched and certainly sends a lesson for the times we are living in now. I would highly recommend it to even non political interested people.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 13, 2010

    Fascinating read!

    I needed to get some background information on the New Deal for a paper I am writing and I came across this book. I could not put it down! I learned more in one book than I ever remember learning in school and was fascincated by the personalities that made up the cabinet and brain trust!
    This book not only is a great educational resource, but inspires me to go out and learn about the other people involved in the New Deal (both proponents and opponents).

    The book is informative and extremely well written and engaging. I found it difficult to put down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 16, 2009

    Excellent book!!

    Though I haven't read the entire book yet, I've read enough to do a review. This book reads like a map that Barack Obama is using to get the economy going again. There are comments in the book that reminded me of G.W.Bush in his last days. I did not realize that Hoover was such a bad president; that he really didn't care for the common people of this country. As I read further, I am enlightened by the steps Roosevelt made to get the people workoing and the economy growing again.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2009

    Nothing To Fear-great background information on a difficult time.

    The book gives great background information on the many people who were part of FDR's brain trust and cabinet. You see and feel the interaction of the many different people in a very trying time. A must read for the student of the Great Depression.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2009

    A marvelous book for our time

    'Nothing to Fear' brings to life the first 100 days of FDR's time in office. It focuses on Roosevelt and five members of his inner circle as they struggle to deal with the many scourges of the Great Depression: a failed banking system; a meltdown of the stock market; extensive business shutdowns; widespread farm foreclosures; and rampant joblessness, homelessness and hunger. (Does any of this sound familiar?) Adam Cohen's book is thoroughly researched and well written. I recommend it to anyone interested in how the US faced its greatest economic crisis and how the New Deal changed America.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A great new look at the Hundred Days

    This is a great book. I love this time period and I have read a great deal on the infamous Hundred Days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. This book takes a new look at the Hundred Days by focusing on the advisers close to FDR and how they influenced and shaped the Hundred Days. Each person, such as Francis Perkins, was focused on. Each got a short background history and the author eloquently explained how they got involved with FDR and how they influenced FDR.<BR/><BR/>To go along with all the great information, there are some pictures. I would have liked a few more pictures in the book but since the book is not incredibly long, that is forgivable.<BR/><BR/>This is a great look at the Hundred Days. The book shows that the beginning of the New Deal did not come about by one man alone but by a team of highly intelligent people, some with differing views on the issues at hand, who managed to work together to come up with some of the most well known of FDR's "alphabet soup".<BR/><BR/>I highly recommend this book to everyone. Whether you have never read anything about the New Deal or FDR's presidency or you are an FDR history buff, this book is for you. I know I really enjoyed it and I'm glad I purchased it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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