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Editorial Reviews

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.
©2013 Ira Katznelson (P)2013 Audible Inc.
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Critic Reviews

" Fear Itself deeply reconceptualizes the New Deal and raises countless provocative questions." (David Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom from Fear)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By zsuzsanna on 08-27-15

History in Context of Political Science Analysis

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.

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7 of 7 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By CHET YARBROUGH on 08-17-16


“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.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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