Synopses & Reviews
A revealing account of the critical first days of FDR’s presidency, during the worst moments of the Great Depression, when he and his inner circle launched the New Deal and presided over the birth of modern America.
Nothing to Fear brings to life a fulcrum moment in American history the tense, feverish first one hundred days of FDR's presidency, when he and his inner circle swept away the old order and reinvented the role of the federal government. When FDR took his oath of office in March 1933, thousands of banks had gone under following the Crash of 1929, a quarter of American workers were unemployed, farmers were in open rebellion, and hungry people descended on garbage dumps and fought over scraps of food. Before the Hundred Days, the federal government was limited in scope and ambition; by the end, it had assumed an active responsibility for the welfare of all of its citizens.
Adam Cohen offers an illuminating group portrait of the five members of FDR's inner circle who played the greatest roles in this unprecedented transformation, revealing in turn what their personal dynamics suggest about FDR's leadership style. These four men and one woman frequently pushed FDR to embrace more activist programs than he would have otherwise. FDR came to the White House with few firm commitments about how to fight the Great Depression as a politician he was more pragmatic than ideological, and, perhaps surprising, given his New Deal legacy, by nature a fiscal conservative. To develop his policies, he relied heavily on his advisers, and preferred when they had conflicting views, so that he could choose the best option among them.
For this reason, he kept in close confidence both Frances Perkins a feminist before her time, and the strongest advocate for social welfare programs and Lewis Douglas an entrenched budget cutter who frequently clashed with the other members of FDR’s progressive inner circle. A more ideological president would have surrounded himself with advisors who shared a similar vision, but rather than commit to a single solution or philosophy, FDR favored a policy of "bold, persistent experimentation." As a result, he presided over the most feverish period of government activity in American history, one that gave birth to modern America.
As Adam Cohen reminds us, the political fault lines of this era over welfare, government regulation, agriculture policy, and much more remain with us today. Nothing to Fear is both a riveting narrative account of the personal dynamics that shaped the tumultuous early days of FDR's presidency, and a character study of one of America's defining leaders in a moment of crisis.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in the life of the United States, indeed a page-turner." New York Times
"Cohen's book may well renew interest in this seminal figure." Christian Science Monitor
"[A] lucid, intelligent narrative as fast-paced as the hectic Hundred Days." Los Angeles Times
"[S]erves as an apt reminder of the possibilities of dramatic reform in the face of crisis and the role of human actors in bringing it about." Chicago Tribune
"Superbly readable and informative." Library Journal
"Ambitious yet well focused a marvelously readable study of an epic moment in American history." Kirkus Reviews
"In the veritable library of books about the New Deal, Adam Cohen's new entry deserves a prominent place on the top shelf. In my judgment, the story of the Hundred Days has never been told so well, nor the cast of characters rendered so compellingly." Joseph J. Ellis, author of American Creation
"This is thrilling history, bringing to life the full-dimensional, extraordinary band of people who shaped the modern United States in a hundred-day dash. Cohen's character sketches are sharp, his narrative moves along briskly, and the story itself is fresh and full of drama. We are better off as a nation for having this chapter of our shared past told in page-turner fashion by Adam Cohen." Timothy Egan, author of The Worst Hard Time
From New York Times editorial board member Cohen comes a revelatory account of the personal dynamics that shaped FDR's inner circle and a political narrative of the 100 days that created modern America.
"A fascinating account of an extraordinary moment in the life of the United States." --The New York Times
With the world currently in the grips of a financial crisis unlike anything since the Great Depression, Nothing to Fear could not be timelier. This acclaimed work of history brings to life Franklin Roosevelt's first hundred days in office, when he and his inner circle launched the New Deal, forever reinventing the role of the federal government. As Cohen reveals, five fiercely intelligent, often clashing personalities presided over this transformation and pushed the president to embrace a bold solution. Nothing to Fear is the definitive portrait of the men and women who engineered the nation's recovery from the worst economic crisis in American history.
About 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.