Book Review — Nothing To Fear

As a history nerd, my problem with your average history book is it will tell you what happened, but not how it happened.  To get the real story, you have to find books like Nothing To Fear: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America by Adam Cohen.

We all know the first 100 days of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration was one of the most pivotal and productive in our country’s history.  But this book’s premise is that most of what was accomplished was not preconceived.  Roosevelt came to the presidency without a deep understanding of what the nation faced, and had he made no firm commitments.  On the contrary, his plan was to “try something” and maintain an open mind.  He relied a great deal on cabinet members and top aides, picking people who had a range of beliefs which frequently conflicted.  Consequently, there were five key people who helped him shape history — Raymond Moley, Lewis Douglas, Henry Wallace, Frances Perkins (the first woman cabinet member), and Harry Hopkins.  The book profiles each, explains their views, and relates how they shaped the opinions of FDR.

It’s easy to take for granted today much of what was contentious then.  Taking the country off the gold standard was a bold move.  Another example is deposit insurance.  Many said such a guarantee to depositors would simply allow weak banks to undermine the strong, and Roosevelt was initially against it.  But overwhelming support in Congress forced the issue upon him.  Raymond Moley wrote “Roosevelt at first endured and then embraced it. I am convinced that finally he made himself believe he had favored it from the beginning.” (p. 279)

This is the way history is really made.

With a copyright of 2009,  Nothing To Fear might be hard to find, but a few copies are out there.

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