Part of The Best Books of 2013: Editors' Picks

Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

By casting fear as the linchpin of politics and policymaking in the New Deal era, Katznelson tackles a big topic and makes it even bigger. Many histories of the New Deal cast U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt as a hero, quashing fear and winning the day for democratic principles, remaking the nation’s social contract, and committing his country to the cause of global peace. Katznelson eschews this formula, focusing instead on the southern Democrats in Congress who emerged as the pivotal characters in the New Deal’s transformation of the American state. Katznelson painstakingly details how Roosevelt’s agenda would not have been possible without the endorsement by southern representatives of a massive expansion of federal power at home. “Without the South,” Katznelson asserts, “there could have been no New Deal.” At each point, Katznelson masterfully documents the extent to which southern Democrats decreed as a nonnegotiable precondition to any legislative action the prevention of African Americans in the South from benefiting from the New Deal in any way.

Read the full review by Taeku Lee.

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