Modern America 1917 To 1941

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by George B. Tindall (1967; Louisiana State). A volume in the highly regarded History of the South series, Tindall’s book covers the era from the inauguration of a Virginia-born President, Woodrow Wilson, in 1913 through the end of World War II, a conflict that left the section less isolated and more cosmopolitan, but with leaders in full retreat to a racist past. In such chapters as “The South and the Savage Ideal” and “The Congo of Bozart,” Tindall shows that you can blend political, economic, and cultural analysis and still tell a fascinating story.

Once in Golconda: A True Drama of Wall Street, 1920-1938

by John Brooks (1969; Wiley). Brooks’s beguiling book opens with the 1920 bomb blast on Wall Street very close to the House of Morgan that took the lives of some 40 people, none of them rich and mighty, and carries on through the taming of the financial district by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The most arresting story Brooks tells is of Richard Whitney, the arrogant Morgan broker and president of the New York Stock Exchange, who hurled contempt at the regulators but wound up in Sing Sing penitentiary.

Turbulent Years: A History of the American Worker, 1933-1941

by Irving Bernstein (1970; Houghton Mifflin; out of print). Bernstein’s book not only explores the impact of the New Deal on the assembly line but, as its title suggests, vividly re-creates the tumult of the Great Depression: “Bloody Thursday” on the San Francisco waterfront, the sit-downs in the auto plants, the Memorial Day massacre at Republic Steel. He reminds us that a country that does not like to think it harbors class distinctions was seriously riven by class.

The Coming of the New Deal

by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1958; Houghton Mifflin). This book is the middle volume of Schlesinger’s magisterial trilogy The Age of Roosevelt. Of the many fine studies of the opening years of FDR’s Presidency, none re-creates the period so well as The Coming of the New Deal or guides the reader so comfortably through tangled economic issues. Critics have objected that Schlesinger writes from a liberal perspective. True, though having a point of view is hardly a defect in a historian. Moreover, Schlesinger brings to his subject a critical intelligence and an outstanding gift for lively narrative.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945

by Robert Dallek (1979; Oxford). Dallek, who later wrote the most judicious of the biographies of Lyndon Johnson, is no less evenhanded in this wide-ranging overview of the entirety of FDR’s Presidency. He acknowledges that Roosevelt made mistakes in his conduct of foreign affairs but maintains that critics have treated him too harshly. Dallek’s book recalls for the reader FDR’s struggles with isolationists at home and with Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin abroad, and recounts the President’s grand alliance with Winston Churchill. He also leads the reader to the next era of American history by reckoning that contrary to Harry Truman’s critics on the left, Roosevelt would have had a showdown with Moscow earlier than Truman did.