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William Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940

William Leuchtenburg's Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1940 is a very fine and highly informative overview of the New Deal - the domestic economic and social programs developed by Roosevelt and his army of reformers in response to the crisis of the Great Depression. Refreshingly, the author resists considerable temptation in not making this a mere hagiography of FDR, but discusses both his successes and his failures, both his personal strengths and shortcomings. The author acknowledges that, for all of its success, the New Deal never solved the problem of widespread unemployment, which was only quelled with the rapid military armament in support of the war in Europe. Still, the New Deal did stabilize our country and bring it back from the bring of collapse, while also establishing much of the social safety net (Social Security, insured bank deposits, unemployment insurance) that we often take for granted today, as well as regulatory bodies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Labor Relations Board which have been critical in curbing the worst abuses of big business.

My one qualm is that, despite the title, this is not exclusively a study of the New Deal, but more of an overview of FDR's first two terms. Leuchtenburg narrates at length about the rise of fascism in the mid 1930s and the start of World War II at the end of the decade, which of course are essential to any discussion of FDR's presidency (especially since the author details FDR's response to each, most notably charting Roosevelt's evolution from isolationist to internationalist) but don't specifically pertain to the New Deal. The book could well have stayed to its New Deal theme, not by ignoring fascism and WWII, but by explaning how each impacted New Deal policies and programs. Still, that qualm is a minor one, and Leuchtenburg's book is a thorough and well-written study of a fascinating era and one of our greatest political leaders, which I highly recommend.

November 13, 2009 in Books, History | Permalink