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

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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 ...

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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

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
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
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)

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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.
From the Publisher
"Cohen humanizes the policy process and adds considerable drama to the established storyline." —-Chicago Tribune
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616802707
  • 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 and the author of The Perfect Store: Inside eBay.

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

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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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 8, 2010

    Highly recommended

    Enjoyed this book very much. Found so many similarities to the U.S. we live in today, and our current economic sitiuation, it was eerie. At times I felt someone within the Obama Administration had read this book and was using the many useful ideas within its pages. At times I, also, wished someone in D.C. WOULD read this book and gather even more helpful hints!! Even if you are not interested in the Twilight Zone experience, and are just a history buff or F.D.R. fan, this will be a fun, learned read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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