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Truman Paperback – June 14, 1993
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The life of Harry S. Truman is one of the greatest of American stories, filled with vivid characters—Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Wallace Truman, George Marshall, Joe McCarthy, and Dean Acheson—and dramatic events. In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the man—a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imagined—but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. The last president to serve as a living link between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Truman’s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on newly discovered archival material and extensive interviews with Truman’s own family, friends, and Washington colleagues, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary “man from Missouri” who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history.
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-- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"A warm, affectionate and thoroughly captivating biography....the most thorough account of Truman's life yet to appear. "
-- Alan Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review
"McCullough's marvelous feel for history is based on an appreciation of colorful tales and an insight into personalities. In this compelling saga of America's greatest common-man president, McCullough adds luster to an old-fashioned historical approach...the sweeping narrative, filled with telling details and an appreciation of the role individuals play in, shaping the world."
-- Walter Isaacson, Time
"Remarkable....you may open it at any point and instantly become fascinated, so easy, lucid, and energetic is the narrative and so absorbing the sequence of events."
-- The Economist
"McCullough is a master storyteller whose considerable narrative skills have been put to exquisite use in re-creating the life and times of America's 33rd president."
-- Robert Dallek, Los Angeles Times Book Review
About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (June 14, 1993)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 1120 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0671869205
- ISBN-13 : 978-0671869205
- Item Weight : 3.18 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.13 x 2.2 x 9.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #30,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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He may have been tough mentally but physically he was not a bruiser. As a child and young man, he never got into a fight, he would much rather play classical piano or read books. In his senior year of high school, his objective was not sports but to read all the books in the school library. In his 30’s he did volunteer for World War I and the men he commanded praised his valor, but he did not enjoy the violence. It was to him the inescapable evil of war. Perhaps the image of him as a tough guy was enhanced by his having threatened physical assault against a music critic who disparaged Margaret Truman’s singing ability. The assault never happened and when the two men did meet many years later, Truman bore no animosity to the critic and treated him with the greatest courtesy.
It is true that he did owe a lot of his political success to the intervention of the powerful Pendergast machine, but he was still meticulously honest in every job they threw his way. They tolerated it because his work ethic was almost beyond human ability but perhaps more importantly it was difficult not to like Harry. He was a man who genuinely liked almost all people and people perceived that affection and tolerance. He always treated even the lowliest with respect and always felt morally obligated to help them in their time of need.
Although he did not have a college degree, it was not for lack of intelligence. He left because his father needed his help to support the family when his father went bankrupt. He was not brilliant, but he was very intelligent and a voracious reader. He loved architecture and was involved in almost every step of the massive renovation of the White House. But what he loved even more than architecture was history. To him, it gave him a remarkable grasp of the significance of the flow of human events. In the 1948 presidential race, every political poll, every pundit gave him no chance of winning. He predicted that he would win the presidency with 340 electoral college votes, Dewey 108, Thurmond 42. The actual tally: Truman 303, Dewey 189, Thurmond 39. A man of limited intelligence could not have made such a prediction. A man of limited intelligence could not have orchestrated the rebuilding of Europe (Marshall Plan) and the painless transformation of America from a war to a peacetime economy.
Truman is to me a conundrum. He seemed to be virtually devoid of the lust for power that is almost invariably a trait of those who achieve it. He was more like a draft horse putting one foot in front of the other pulling the load given to him, not conscious of any other purpose. But this farmer from Missouri, who did not have the overwhelming presence of a Washington or Roosevelt, who did not have the brilliance of an Adams or a Jefferson, was in Churchill’s estimation the man who save Western civilization. Churchill told him so when he visited Truman in 1952, “The last time you and I sat across the conference table was at Potsdam, Mr. President. I must confess, sir, I held you in very low regard then. I loathed your taking the place of Franklin Roosevelt. I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you more than any other man, have saved Western civilization.”
Harry S. Truman has been placed in the upper echelon of great American Presidents, and it’s easy to see why. Never has a President been unexpectedly thrown into the breach of the office with so many ominous decisions to make, yet seemingly so unprepared for the highest and most powerful office in the land. After been reluctantly selected to be Franklin Roosevelt’s Vice President, Truman took the oath of office upon the death of FDR, the world was still at war, just 82 days into Roosevelt’s unprecedented fourth term. Upon learning of the President’s death, it is said Truman asked Eleanor Roosevelt if there was anything he could do for her; she replied, "Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now!"
Truman’s rise to the Presidency is a great American story, which McCollough details vividly. The son of a Missouri farmer, which Harry himself became, Truman was truly a man of the people. Earnest, plain spoken, and hardworking, these were the characteristics that justly defined him. After serving as a Field Captain in World War 1, Harry returned to Independence, Missouri where he would marry his sweetheart Bess and become a haberdasher before he would find his calling in public service.
After some aid from Kansas City Democratic Machine Boss Tom Pendergast, Truman would go on to become Jackson County Judge, an administrative position similar to that of a County Commissioner. Harry oversaw the County’s “Ten Year Plan”, which included the transformation of the county’s public works including updating the network of roads and a new county courthouse. He was elected the president of the Greater Kansas City Plan Association and made director of the National Conference of City Planning. As an urban planner myself, I found this to be great trivia!
After serving 12 years as County Judge, Truman would go on to be elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934, again leveraging the aid of Boss Pendergast. Upon entering the Senate, he would be disregarded as “The Senator from Pendergast”. It was after being reelected to the Senate in 1940, where Truman would begin to make a name for himself, establishing the Truman Committee, charged with rooting out waste and war profiteering from the expansive war mobilization efforts of the Roosevelt Administration. It was during his time on this committee where Truman’s no nonsense and hard work allowed him to establish himself as worthy of a Vice Presidential candidate.
Truman’s tenure as President is as consequential as any during the 20th Century. Soon after taking office he set off to Potsdam, Germany to meet with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin to discuss the postwar order of Europe. Within months, he authorized the use of the atomic bomb, quickly ending what would have continued to be an enduring and ghastly war with Japan. Upon taking the oath of office, Truman, even as FDR’s Vice President, had no idea the bomb was even in development, which is much more a reflection of FDR given his failing health. His presidency helped achieve historic institutions of monumental consequence including the creation of the United Nations and NATO. Ushered in the Marshall Plan which helped rebuild post-war Europe. Initiated the Berlin Airlift, a campaign to deliver food, coal and other supplies using military aircraft on a massive scale allowing the circumvention of a Soviet blockade to Western Europe. Instituted the “Truman Doctrine” of communist containment. Recognized the creation of Israel. All within his first term!
The gripping account of the 1948 reelection bid is certainly a highlight of the book. Truman’s reelection campaign is on of political folklore, and McCollough details it masterfully. Down mightily in the polls to New York Governor Thomas Dewey, and with ever political pundit in the country counting him out, Truman zig-zags across the country by train speaking at every stop along the way. Truman’s plain-speaking approach and “give em hell, Harry!” style contrasting with Dewey’s lofty and empty rhetoric coupled with a lack of urgency ultimately wins the day. Even after garnering massive crowds, he was expected to go down in defeat as of election night. After emerging victorious the day after, Truman holds up the front page of the Chicago Tribune announcing “Dewey Defeats Truman”! Harry S. Truman was never a man to be counted out, and he earned everything he got.
Truman’s second term was no less ominous than his first. Even as the economy was as strong as ever, the Korean War and labor strikes dictated much of his time. A lasting triumph of his second term was the desegregating of the military, an action that began to erode the Democratic party’s stronghold on the south. Truman left office after his second term a very unpopular President, succeeded by World War II hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
It’s said that McCollough’s “Truman” helped to reshape his standing among U.S. Presidents, and it should. Harry S. Truman is proof that if you are given a job, it is your duty to give it all you got, and that hard work does pay off, and that only in America can a man of humble beginnings can soar to great heights.
In that regard McCoullough succeeds, mostly finding written confirmation or denial of the anecdotal history that characterizes the Truman we think we know. The source material, quotes, letters, articles, and interviews, are well worth the time spent.
Top reviews from other countries
Truman was definitely one of America's greatest Presidents and he made some of the most momentous decisions, good and not so good, of the twentieth century. He was on the one hand, an honest, hard working American trying to do the right thing, yet was the product of a political machine, a system he believed in. Although he was always faithful to his friends, many of them were of dubious character. But I think that's what made him human. He tried to do what he always thought was best, what he believed in, even if it was not popular. For that you have to respect him, even if you disagree with his decisions. Five stars is not enough for this wonderful book!