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Shlaes Slays FDR and the New Deal

My review of Amity Shlaes’ magnificent new book on FDR and the New Deal, The Forgotten Man: A New History of The Great Depression is now up at National Review Online.

It is a terrific book. Here’s my lede:

This new book is the finest history of the Great Depression ever written. Hold on — this is supposed to be a review, not a dust-jacket blurb; but it can’t be helped. Although there are several fine revisionist works about the Great Depression and the New Deal, Shlaes’s achievement stands out for the devastating effect of its understated prose and for its wide sweep of characters and themes. It deserves to become the preeminent revisionist history for general readers.

Note to Peter: This book should be added to the Ashbrook Scholars required reading list.

Discussions - 6 Comments

I am about halfway through it now. I like it, but I tend to think that (so far at least) one would be better served by reading Gary Dean Best, Alonzo Hamby, and Robert Sobel. Again, I say this with the major qualification that I have not yet finished the book. But by all means, buy it, read it, and you will not be dumber for having done so.

Why are their analyses of the New Deal superior?

And isn't Hamby (a Truman biographer) a yellow-dog Democrat?

Best made (what I feel) is the most important point about the New Deal. That is, he pointed out the obvious fact that you can't be pro-recovery and anti-business. Hamby is probably best described as a neoconservative now, but that is perhaps beside the point. Hamby's book "For the Survival of Democracy" does two important things. First, it compares the New Deal to what was going on in other countries. Second, it doesn't underestimate the importance of the political success of the New Deal. Sobel is better at giving the nuts and bolts of the economics of the crash and subsequent depression, as well as (in the Coolidge biography) demonstrating that the prosperity of the 1920s was real.
Again, no knock on Forgotten Man. It is good. I just don't want there to be Forgotten Books.

Thanks for the response. Sounds like Schlaes' book is the most worth reading, at least for a non-economist.

I am pretty sure I have a lifetime contract to rank Prof. Hamby's books as the most important. You can't go wrong with any of them, and you don't need to be an economist (I'm not) to enjoy them. That is the wonderful thing about history (or it is supposed to be).

Thanks Stephen for the other recs. I found the Shlaes book quite good...a quick 350-page read that due to its quickness sometimes has to skimp, sometimes feels a little disorganized, but which never seems dumbed-down. Mr. Hayward's fine review gives you the highlights. FDR's clueless experimentation and unpredictability is simply breath-taking, particularly regarding monetary policy. And his overall knee-jerk propensity to blame the rich and the big corps for economic problems totally belies the idea that the New Deal was carefully founded on Keynesian economics or any other sort of theory.

To get a more detailed grasp on the New Deal from a wide variety of scholars, I'm certain I can recommend without having read The New Deal and the Triumph of Liberalism a collection edited by Milkis and Mileur, as their similar collection on LBJ and co., The Great Society and the High Tide of Liberalism was so excellent.

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