Getting (greatly) depressed for the holidays

Two facts you might have picked up on: I don’t regularly post book reviews, and I don’t talk about modern history much.

The reason for the first is simply that a lot of the books on my reading list have been out for a while.  A lot of fine work got published either before I was born or before I wanted to study history, while other books that I intended to read as soon as they were published just fell through the cracks.  Occasionally a book gets published that is so important to me that everything else has to take a number, and I read it as soon as it’s available.  I usually try to put up a review of these recent books here.  For the most part, though, I figure most of you don’t sit around waiting for my detailed analysis of some fifteen- or twenty-year-old monograph, so I keep my reactions to these titles to myself.

The reason for the second fact is that modern history just doesn’t interest me.  After the nineteenth century, it starts to look more and more like contemporary human activity, and contemporary human activity is something of which I often disapprove.

Right now, though, I’m going to make a rare exception to both of these generalizations by endorsing a somewhat older book on a recent topic.  Not long ago, I realized that I needed to beef up my lectures a little by filling some gaps in my knowledge about the thirties and forties.  For that reason I bought a copy of David Kennedy’s Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945, part of the Oxford History of the United States.  I expected reading this nine-hundred-page behemoth to be a chore, but I was happily quite mistaken. 

Even to someone as averse to modern political and economic history as myself, this book is thoroughly enjoyable.  I won’t post a “review” here, partly because the book came out in 2001, partly because it covers so much territory that I couldn’t do it justice, and partly because I haven’t finished it yet.  Instead, let me just offer a hearty recommendation.  Like all the volumes in the Oxford series, it’s extremely readable, and Kennedy has managed to deftly orchestrate a lot of different themes and topics in such a manner that it seems effortless.  He’s also remarkably balanced in his appraisals of the leading figures of the era and the measures they undertook.  If you’re as leery about dipping into twentieth-century American history as I generally am, then this might be the best place to start.


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