Democracies are constantly reminded of the problem of coming to fast compromise and agreement in the face of pressing hardship. The years of FDR and The New Deal were a time of constant uncertainty in America. In Europe possible benefits of Communism and Fascism over this issue seemed promising to some. The United States had to reshape itself in a way that has affected the country’s structure through today. Compromise was made, and Ira Katznelson argues, partially at the cost of accepting the racist tendencies of the era’s southern democrats. Scott Brick performs this expansive, and unique look at one of the most important periods of shaping the modern United States. Brick gives a measured delivery, powerfully articulating this erudite and opinionated history lesson.
Redefining our traditional understanding of the New Deal, Fear Itself finally examines this pivotal American era through a sweeping international lens that juxtaposes a struggling democracy with enticing ideologies like Fascism and Communism. Ira Katznelson, "a towering figure in the study of American and European history" (Cornel West), boldly asserts that, during the 1930s and 1940s, American democracy was rescued yet distorted by a unified band of southern lawmakers who safeguarded racial segregation as they built a new national state to manage capitalism and assert global power. This original study brings to vivid life the politicians and pundits of the time, including Walter Lippmann, who argued that America needed a dose of dictatorship; Mississippi’s five-foot-two Senator Theodore Bilbo, who advocated the legal separation of races; and Robert Oppenheimer, who built the atomic bomb yet was tragically undone by the nation’s hysteria. Fear Itself is a necessary work, vital to understanding our world - a world the New Deal first made.
Where does Fear Itself rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
I really enjoyed this book and will look for more where history is embedded in a wider analytical context. Some of the non-fiction books I've listened to lack an "organizing principle," i.e. tend to be chronological reportage of facts - including the most trivial given the subject at hand - in which case I tend to lose interest.
What did you like best about this story?
The author clearly started out with a conceptual framework, in this case analyzing the crisis of American liberal democracy through the prism of FDR's New Deal in the specific context of race relations and the political role of Southern Jim Crow politics. As well, the author uses a broader brush to set pivotal New Deal politicking in a general geopolitical context. I found the history cum political science approach to the New Deal fascinating, engaging and intellectually stimulating.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Not really. First and foremost it's a longish listen. Equally, there's much to ingest, not to mention digest intellectually, so I paced myself to be able to think about what I'd heard, also doing a bit of further research on the side.
Any additional comments?
An excellent audio book all round, including the narration, which suited me very well. Each to their own, I'm well aware; that said, my personal preference, especially for thought-rich, not to mention thought-provoking books is that the narrator most definitely not be made to gallop through the text. I've had to return a couple of titles because it was narrated so fast that albeit I listened carefully, I could not hear any of it. So now I listen more carefully to sample audio to choose the most suitable narration for me.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
“Fear Itself” has become cliché and authors of FDR’s administration are as plentiful as pixels on an HD screen. However, Ira Katznelson offers a sharpened image of a past and present that threatens the future of American democracy. The threat posed by the fictional “House of Cards” President, Frank Underwood, and the benighted pretender to the throne, Donald Trump, plays out in fiction and reality.
Katznelson argues that FDR’s New Deal to pull America out of depression would have never passed Congress without support of the segregated south. To assure the south’s support FDR ignores the lynching and degradation of black Americans during his first years as President. Because the south believes the New Deal poses no threat to their belief in white supremacy, they vote as a bloc to support FDR’s administration. Katznelson implies that FDR views murder and discrimination of blacks a lesser threat to American Democracy than failure of the New Deal. However, Katznelson notes that economic stimulus and the oncoming war accelerate recognition of black equality and an epic change in American Democracy.
Katznelson goes on to explain how important a role the south plays in determining public policy. The seeds for the Red Scare and the rise of McCarthyism are planted with the beginning of the cold war. Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Truman’s home town sets the table for an American black list that ruins a number of American lives. Because competing special interests influence public policy, communist hunters like Senator McCarthy look for ways to exploit American fear of communism. It provides a populist subject for unscrupulous political leaders to seek fame, fortune, and public office. Katznelson’s theme is “Fear Itself” and how it is used to interfere with justice.
“Fear Itself” is Donald Trump’s hole card, his uncovered ace in a game of chance. Trump gambles with the fate of America by creating fear of terrorism, Muslims, Mexicans, and immigration. Terrorism is real but Trump’s use of fear is disingenuous. His ambition is the power and prestige of office; not protection of America from terrorism. Trump is the Senator McCarthy of our time.
Katznelson is another historian proving the irrelevance of history because we keep repeating ourselves. We forget the past and blunder down the same path, tripping and falling, leaving more blood and pain for the children of America’s future.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
It puts modern policy in proper historical context. Enlightening. Would recommend for anyone who has questions about how the modern state has become disconnected from the people it purports to serve.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
What disappointed you about Fear Itself?
Thy guy who read this book apparently thought the point of the exercise was to demonstrate his acting talents rather than to enable the listener to think about the text. Either that or Katznelson's prose is overwrought gobbledygook. But I suspect the reader, especially because he neglected to find out how to pronounce such words as "Manichean" and "Keynes."
I have taken a hard copy out of the library and will see whether I can make anything of Katznelson's thesis, very likely improving my opinion of the book.
6 of 10 people found this review helpful
I've been mostly listening to history books for the last two years and have had this one recommended to me by lots of people I trust, but my god... This guy does not make a coherent narrative. It feels like an undergrad dissertation. And the narration doesn't do it any favors. I can't imagine anyone finishing this thing.
The book might be ok, but the reading is unbearable
I had to stop reading and would urge others to avoid this book. Maybe Brick would be ok for reading fiction, but NOT serious history
In the introduction to "Fear Itself" author Ira Katznelson states that there have been many books that go through the events of the New Deal and how they played out and that he does not want this book to just be another one of those. To that aim Katznelson succeeds, as his book is not a blow-by-blow chronological narrative of the causes, events and outcomes of The New Deal. If you want to know the chronological events of the time, this isn't the book.
Instead the book is a historical analysis of the way the events were shaped by the prejudices of the time period, looking at who voted for the New Deal bills and why rather than the specific detail of each of the bills. It is not laid out in a chronological order, instead jumping back and forth in time as is required to suit the topic being discussed.
A large part of the book deals with how The New Deal and the expansion of the role of Government, and the Executive branch in particular, was shaped by Jim Crow southern Democrats (who were effectively a one-party system in the south at the time). The southern Democrats held the balance of power and how they voted - for which bits or amendments to bills, is shown to play out in such a way as to not damage the Jim Crow segregation of the south.
It also looks at how the rise of dictatorships in Europe (Germany, Russia, and Italy primarily) shaped the growth of the Executive powers. While obviously not a change to a full dictatorship the period was a significant growth of Executive power that moved the USA closer to that system. Katznelson shows how lessons and gains seen in Europe were adopted by the USA in an attempt to capture some of the economic growth and (apparent) stability seen in those nations. It discusses the creation of many three-letter-acronym agencies and bureaus as a sign of the growth of Government power in the period, ending with discussion of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Strategic Air Command(SAC), being solely government run groups reporting under the Executive with extreme power - control of America's nuclear arsenal and power, a clear sign of the gains in strength the Executive branch has made over the previous decades.
The subtitle of the book "The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time" isn't really fulfilled, in that the book doesn't really cover how it is 'the origins of our times'. The book primarily focuses on the events at the time and how it played out based on the prejudices and demands of the time period, while only briefly looking at how those decisions have actively shaped our time. The discussions on the origins and shaping of our time is not overly explicit and in that way the book fails to live up to the book subtitle.
The book is never dull and keeps you engaged and interested. I would have like to see some more discussion on how the agencies, powers and controls have shaped the decades since but otherwise an interesting book.
This is another book narrated by Scott Brick. At this point I'm just copying and pasting old review of Brick's work. I've never heard of a more divisive narrator. People love him or hate him. I'm on the love him side, but your mileage may vary. He is clear and crisp, well paced and highly engaging while basically disappearing into the book. He is easy to listen to without ever "taking over" the book and drawing you out of it, or allowing you to be distracted.
Any additional comments?
And it's pretty dry. But if you have a lot of time to kill, it's an interesting perspective on the era. Good background for anyone who wants to understand the historical context of our political parties and electoral map.
The writer jumps around in time so much that it is very hard to keep track of what time period he's talking about. Despite the sporadic timeline it is a truly informative book. It looks at not just the time period and the changes that took place, but the motivations that influenced those changes both at home and abroad.
definitely a lot of material covered and not necessarily in the most easily followed way. A lot of it seemed to jump around a little bit and it didn't seem to have one coherent thesis. But there was a lot of evidence and you just end up feeling like the United States some pretty terrible things to people.