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Fear Itself

The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

Ira Katznelson (Author, Columbia University)

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A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2013

Fear Itself deeply reconceptualizes the New Deal and raises countless provocative questions.”—David Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Freedom from Fear

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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • March 2013
  • ISBN 978-0-87140-450-3
  • 5.7 × 9.6 in / 720 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Other Formats

  1. Book CoverFear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time

    Paperback

Endorsements & Reviews

“All of Fear Itself is suffused with the same sense of pure terror during the Roosevelt and Truman years as, say, Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. It’s easy to forget not just how dangerous the situation was, at home and abroad, during the New Deal, but how palpable were outcomes far worse than what we got…[Katznelson] has done something remarkable in Fear Itself in creating a large-scale, densely detailed tableau of the New Deal that feels fresh and unfamiliar.” — Nicholas Lemann, New York Review of Books

Fear Itself is a monumental history of the New Deal’s greatest paradox, its connections with the Jim Crow South. Combining historical nuance with his clear eye for the big picture, Ira Katznelson contributes one of the most trenchant accounts yet of American liberalism at the height of its power in the 1930s and 1940s—a book of major importance in understanding our own political distempers and opportunities.” — Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

“A powerful argument, swept along by Katznelson’s robust prose and the imposing scholarship that lies behind it.” — Kevin Boyle, New York Times Book Review

Fear Itself deeply reconceptualizes the New Deal and raises countless provocative questions.” — David Kennedy, author of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

“With Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson accomplishes something almost impossible—making us think in entirely new ways about the New Deal and its complex and contradictory legacy for modern America, and about the long legacy of slavery in our politics and society.” — Eric Foner, author of The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery

“Ira Katnelson’s Fear Itself is an extraordinary book that will change our understanding of the New Deal. He has shown the ways in which racism has shaped American life in the age of the Great Depression, and among other things he has brought the U.S. Congress to the front of the New Deal. It is a remarkable work of scholarship.” — Alan Brinkley, author of The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War

“In Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson has taken up an old subject and given it new life. In vivid prose, he reinterprets the causes and consequences of the New Deal and its aftermath, putting new emphasis on the role of Congress and southern legislators in the construction of domestic and foreign policy and the fighting of a world war and a cold war. His arguments are compelling, his documentation thorough. Fear Itself will, from this moment on, be the place to go for an understanding of the making of the New Deal and twentieth-century America.” — David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie

“A wholly new approach to the New Deal takes history we thought we knew and makes it even richer and more complex. In this deeply erudite, beautifully written history, Katznelson... adopts an expansive view of the New Deal, extending it to the end of the Truman administration.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Positing that the New Deal preserved liberal democracy, but at the expense of compromises with illiberal forces, Katznelson’s hefty history weighs other historians’ interpretations of the New Deal as it knowledgeably advances its own.” — Booklist

“Engrossing… It is an exhilarating pleasure to lose yourself in this old-fashioned example of original historical scholarship. Fear Itself is a sprawling, ambitious book that offers illuminating insights on nearly every page. Among Katznelson’s gifts is the one most valuable to readers and most in danger of extinction in the American academy: He writes clear, energetic prose without a whiff of academic jargon or pretension… Entertaining and enlightening.” — Robert G. Kaiser, Washington Post

“Ambitious, fascinating, and slightly dark… [Katznelson’s] account of how a belief in the common good gave way to a central government dominated by interest-group politics and obsessed with national security.” — Louis Menand, New Yorker

“Brilliant… One of the many strengths of Fear Itself is that it brings Congress back to center stage in the New Deal era. American politics past tend to be retrospectively seen through the lens of the presidency, an impulse that is particularly understandable with respect to FDR, who almost certainly did more to shape the political landscape than any politician of the last century… One of the many virtues of this masterful book is that it rescues the tragedies and ironies of the New Deal from the facile "liberal fascism" taunts from the likes of Jonah Goldberg.” — Scott Lemieux, American Prospect

“In Fear Itself, Ira Katznelson―has produced an excellent work of synthesis about the political and economic terms of the New Deal. It forms a bittersweet homage to the period he has long thought of as the pivotal moment in the development of both American democracy and the US national security state, founded on foreign and domestic policy designed around the “containment” of threats"…. His powerful and well-paced account begins in 1933 at the start of FDR’s extended presidency and ends with the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower 20 years later"… anyone wanting an intelligent guide to the ideas that still shape its place in our own fractious times should begin by reading this book.” — Duncan Kelly, Financial Times

Fear Itself is a provocative look at how modern America—created three-quarters of a century ago by the very Southern barons who were so important a part of the New Deal —was shaped. We think of history as a settled thing, tucked safely in a faraway past. This book is a reminder of how very surprising it can be.” — David Shribman, Boston Globe

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