“The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War” by Alan Brinkley Critical Essay

April 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

In his masterpiece book, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War, Alan Brinkley employs extensive research to achieve his objectives. The objective of the book is to give a fresh look to the Great Depression and the post war liberal new deals.

The conventional thinking holds that at the time of the depression, Americans greatest needs were relief mechanisms to fend for their families and an assurance from the government that it would recover from the crisis.

However, Brinkley maintains that the key aspect of the New Deal was the reform agenda, which unfortunately died after 1937 only to reemerge as a new liberal agenda.

He notes, “The new liberalism that evolved in response to this changing world wrapped itself in the mantle of the New Deal, but bore only a partial resemblance to the ideas that had shaped the original New Deal” (Brinkley 1995, 431).

As aforementioned, Brinkley carried extensive research in a bid to validate his arguments on the role of reforms in the New Deal programs, which is one of the strengths of this book.

The author explores the people that came up with the reform agenda before creating an enabling environment for the real change to take place. This agenda acted as a springboard upon which the United States would move into the future with unparalleled success.

Whilst Americans were calling for relief and recovery strategies, Brinkley notes that visionary people around President Roosevelt came up with a proactive scheme to ensure that the citizens were covered in the future.

The reform agenda entailed employment creation, economic reforms, creation of labor unions and dealing with monopolies for the greater good of all Americans.

However, Brinkley is concerned with the death of the original reform agenda after 1937. The New Deal liberalism in Brinkley’s words was just but a ploy by the post-war liberals to introduce capitalism in the name of consumer rights.

The author does a recommendable job to give back up information from historical documentations to support his conclusions. The references used in the book are numerous and diverse, which dismisses the idea that the book is biased.

On top of using key historical books, Brinkley consults personal write-ups from renowned people who were part of Roosevelt’s administration.

This firsthand information allows the author to determine the motives of such individuals and the roles that they played towards the killing of the reform agenda after the Second World War. The notable individuals that the author quotes include Harold Ickes, Thomas Corcoran, and Felix Frankfurter among many others.

In a bid to assist the reader to understand the individuals mentioned in the book, the author gives biographical information on most of them. For instance, one of the influential individuals during Roosevelt’s administration was Arnold Thurman.

However, instead of Brinkley just mentioning him, he gives some background information, which helps the writer to connect the dots. He says, “Arnold was the product of two very different cultures: the relatively fluid world of the American West where he grew up, and the more established society of the eastern intellectual elite where he was educated” (Brinkley 1995, 107).

Therefore, the book does not simply state facts, but it engages the reader by probing the key personalities who were working behind the scenes to make the United States of America what it was at the time.

However, the book has its shortcomings. For instance, the author does not give clear-cut information concerning how the different opinions of the time came together to dictate the country’s future.

The reader does not really understand the stand of President Roosevelt in the face of differing opinions and philosophies, which were at his disposal at the time. In addition, the author overlooked some issues like what other groups were involved in the new liberalism because he only mentions the Brain Trust.

Other renowned groups like the Black Cabinet are not mentioned, yet they played a key role in the issues discussed in the book. The greatest weakness of this otherwise historical masterpiece is the conspicuous lack of other individuals who were involved in influencing decisions at the time.

For instance, immediately after the reforms started to bear fruits, Southern democrats kept off the President due to their interests in slavery. The author should have at least indicated how this shift of allegiance affected policy making at the time.

If I were to rewrite the book, I would also include the role of Roosevelt’s wife, Eleanor. The role of first ladies in governance cannot be ignored, but Brinkley either forgot or overlooked this aspect.

In conclusion, The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War is a great piece of historical work. Brinkley gives a detailed account of how the reforms started and died coupled with an exploration of the individuals involved.

The book is rich with research and a wide array of references, which underscores its strengths. However, Brinkley forgot or overlooked numerous critical aspects like the other parties involved in shaping the United States at the time and especially the Southern Democrats.

I can recommend the book for someone with rich historical background, but not a fresher seeking to get fine details of the post Great Depression United States.


Brinkley, Alan. 1995. The End of Reform: New Deal Liberalism in Recession and War. New York: Vintage Books.

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