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Dwight D. Eisenhower: The American Presidents Series: The 34th President, 1953-1961 Hardcover – Nov 5 2002
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"I have been in politics ... most of my adult life. There's no more active political organization in the world than the armed forces of the United States." So said Dwight Eisenhower, the subject of journalist-novelist Tom Wicker's thoughtful--and often critical--Dwight D. Eisenhower, shortly after leaving the presidency.
Eisenhower was never above politics, as his admirers claimed; Wicker shows that he was a political creature through and through, as Patton suspected while serving under him in World War II. ("Ike wants to be president so badly you can taste it," Patton said.) He held all the contradictory positions of a politician, too: a dedicated cold warrior and anti-Communist, he famously decried the power of the "military-industrial complex," resisted American involvement in Vietnam while setting the stage for it, and called himself a "liberal Republican" while doing little to attend to pressing domestic issues, especially in the realm of civil rights. He refused to stand up to Joe McCarthy and chose Richard Nixon as his running mate for reasons of political expediency.
Wicker gives Eisenhower middling marks: "The worst did not happen in his time, but neither did the best." His survey may not cheer Ike's fans, but it's balanced, highly readable, and useful for those seeking a window on American political life half a century ago. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
The latest in the American Presidents series of brief biographies (edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr.), journalist Wicker's chronicle of Eisenhower offers a solid account, plus a unique personal view, of the much-loved and maligned politician. Wicker (One of Us: Richard Nixon and the American Dream), who covered politics for the New York Times for 30 years, spent a week with Eisenhower in 1962. Wicker had been a left-leaning Stevenson supporter and critic of Eisenhower's policies in the 1950s, but he found himself entranced by the ex-president and by the end of the week became a lifelong booster of Eisenhower the man, if not Eisenhower the president. Wicker says he has tried to factor out his personal fondness for Eisenhower while composing this biography, and he does manage a lively evenhandedness-not an oxymoron in this circumstance-in weighing the accomplishments and pitfalls of his administration. Only a few pages are devoted to his first 62 years on earth-the real beginning is Eisenhower's 1952 presidential campaign. A fine introduction to 1950s political history, the biography covers the domestic and international crises that occurred on Eisenhower's watch, including the Supreme Court's decision to racially integrate public schools, the poisonous influence of Sen. Joe McCarthy, tensions with the Soviet Union and the threat of nuclear war. Thanks to Wicker's limber prose (his talents as an oft-published novelist are on display), careful research and personal touch, the learning is easy.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
As for the negative tone, I am not offended, nor am I disappointed. There have been plenty of fawning biographies written about Ike (check out any Ambrose volume), so it is only fair that we get a different take. Ike's presidency, like so many, had its shining moments, but also its shame. Wicker correctly identifies Ike's weaknesses, including a tendency to overdelegate and of course, a reluctant, weak-willed enforcement of civil rights laws. It is also important to note that Ike failed to take on that era's most poisonous demagogue, Joseph McCarthy.
Writing a hagiography would be easy given our country's worship of military figures, but this is a political biography. The years from 1953 to 1961 were not perfect, and Wicker understands that the leadership must be held accountable for some of that decade's less admirable turns.
In short, that's the gist of this book, Wicker's attempt some 50 years later to explain why he didn't vote for Eisenhower. He succeeds in dragging in for the book's 150 pages every liberal interpretation of the Eisenhower record while ignoring all of its highpoints. Wicker whines that Ike is not strong enough on civil rights, he unleashed the CIA, he began the long descent into Vietnam, he did not challenge McCarthy, he did not sign a nuclear test ban treaty. Blah blah blah. In short, he was a doddering old man who was shallow in comparison with the Kennedys and largely a caretaker president. While Wicker takes occasional swipes at being objective, his criticisms of Eisenhower do not take into account hindsight nor the large amount of revisionist Eisenhower scholarship. To read this book, one would assume that detente was still possible and that managing the Cold War to stalemate during its hottest years was nothing to write home about. For Wicker, it's 1960 all over again, and JFK will ride to the rescue.
There are some good observations of Eisenhower in person that are worth buying the book for, the sort of touches that one would expect from a journalist who had actually met the man. But Wicker also drags in that "His preferred reading was western novels" and that "His painting was strictly a hobby, with no concern for art. He objected to a Picasso hanging in Gabriel Hauge's White House Office, disliked classical music.." and other mortal sins. This sort of thing stands out because it reads like a typical argument against Eisenwhower in 1956: "Well,you know, Stevenson is so much more eloquent."
Most recent customer reviews
One reviewer complained that this was not a complete biography, and that is certainly correct. It is a biography of Eisenhower as president, in a series devoted to covering the... Read morePublished on Oct. 29 2003 by Robert Moore
Tom Wicker spent thirty years writing on politics for the New York Times. Having worked as a young reporter in the 1950s, he combines memories of actual events with secondary... Read morePublished on April 4 2003 by Michael Oppenheim
Arthur Schlesinger's involvement in anything Republican can mean nothing more than an opportunity for him to denounce the subject at hand, and this diatribe is no exception. Read morePublished on Dec 5 2002 by B. Baldwin
Tom Wicker presents a portrait of Eisenhower that is as unfair and inaccurate as Paul Johnson's treatment of Napoleon, which also appears in this series of brief biographies. Read morePublished on Dec 4 2002
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