Benjamin V. Cohen


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Architect of the New Deal

William Lasser; Preface by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

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A key figure in the administrations of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Benjamin V. Cohen (1894–1983) was a major architect of public policy from the first days of FDR’s presidency through the early days of the Cold War. Although he kept a low public profile, Cohen’s influence extended across a wide range of domestic and foreign policy initiatives. In this biography, William Lasser offers the first account of Ben Cohen’s life and career, and an assessment of his contribution to the origin and development of modern American liberalism.

Cohen’s life provides an extraordinary lens through which to view the development of the evolving political philosophy of the Roosevelt and Truman presidencies. A brilliant lawyer noted for his good judgment and experience, Cohen was a leading member of FDR’s “Brain Trust,” developing ideas, drafting legislation, lobbying within the administration and in Congress, and defending the New Deal in court. The book traces his contributions to domestic financial policy, his activities during the war years in London and Washington, his service as counselor to the State Department and member of the American delegation to the United Nations after the war, and his role in the American Zionist movement. From Cohen’s life and work, Lasser draws important insights into the development of the New Deal and the evolution of postwar liberalism.

A Century Foundation Book

William Lasser is Alumni Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Clemson University.

“Lasser demonstrates the power of biography in fostering a more sophisticated understanding of political and intellectual history. With lucid discussion of complex developments in and ideas about the political economy, his study advances a compelling argument about Cohen’s significance within the Roosevelt administration and his enduring influence on the development of modern liberalism.”—Robert Mason, Journal of American Studies

“Lasser has accomplished more than simply telling the story of Cohen’s life, as interesting and significant as it is. He has used the story to provide a fresh and important perspective on the New Deal, and indeed, on modern American reform.”—Richard Polenberg, Cornell University

“Highly recommended for academic collections on the presidency and the New Deal.”—Library Journal

"Lasser has done an admirable job of reconstructing Cohen’s life. . . . Cohen had a remarkable career, and in William Lasser he has a biographer who . . . does him full justice."—William E. Leuchtenburg, Washington Post Book World

“Lasser has succeeded in presenting the life of Benjamin V. Cohen against the backdrop of the New Deal, Zionism, World War II, and the United Nations in each of which he played a role. . . . A well-constructed picture of a relatively anonymous public servant, a prototypical liberal who was a model for presidential assistants and who richly deserves more recognition.”—Morton I. Teicher, Jewish Journal

"Lucid and well-organized. . . . This is a book that will repay careful reading. It is valuable for the light it sheds on the New Deal, liberalism, and politics in the 20th century, as well as on the significant though often little understood figure who is its subject. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above."—Choice

“A well-constructed picture of a relatively anonymous public servant, a prototypical liberal who was a model for presidential assistants and who richly deserves more recognition.”—Morton I. Teicher, National Jewish Post & Opinion

“[An] excellent biography. . . .Lasser has accomplished a great deal in this book. . . . A very welcome addition to the shelf of fine books that chronicle the many architects of the New Deal.”—Jason Scott Smith, Business History Review

ISBN: 9780300088793
Publication Date: June 10, 2002
Publishing Partner: A Century Foundation Book
406 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
13 b/w illus.