Eisenhower in War and Peace Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Feb 21 2012
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“Magisterial.”—The New York Times
“[A] fine new biography . . . [Eisenhower’s] White House years need a more thorough exploration than many previous biographers have given them. Smith, whose long, distinguished career includes superb one-volume biographies of Grant and Franklin Roosevelt, provides just that.”—The Washington Post
“Highly readable . . . [Smith] shows us that [Eisenhower’s] ascent to the highest levels of the military establishment had much more to do with his easy mastery of politics than with any great strategic or tactical achievements.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Always engrossing . . . Smith portrays a genuinely admirable Eisenhower: smart, congenial, unpretentious, and no ideologue. Despite competing biographies from Ambrose, Perret, and D’Este, this is the best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“No one has written so heroic a biography [on Eisenhower] as this year’s Eisenhower in War and Peace [by] Jean Edward Smith.”—The National Interest
“Dwight Eisenhower, who was more cunning than he allowed his adversaries to know, understood the advantage of being underestimated. Jean Edward Smith demonstrates precisely how successful this stratagem was. Smith, America’s greatest living biographer, shows why, now more than ever, Americans should like Ike.”—George F. Will
About the Author
Jean Edward Smith is the author of the highly acclaimed FDR, winner of the 2008 Francis Parkman Prize; Grant, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist; John Marshall: Definer of a Nation; and Lucius D. Clay: An American Life. A member of the faculty at the University of Toronto for thirty-five years, and at Marshall University for twelve, he is currently a senior scholar in the history department at Columbia.See all Product Description
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Eisenhower has been the subject of numerous excellent biographies, so it is reasonable to ask if this one has any characteristics that make it stand out. In my opinion, it is very objective and treats Eisenhower's failings in detail as well as his successes. Smith discusses Eisenhower's marital problems that first surfaced with the death of his infant firstborn son, but which were ongoing. Smith also discusses, in considerable detail, Eisenhower's relationship with Kay Sommersby. Other biographers touch on this (for instance, Stephen Ambrose in his one volume condensation of his two volume "official" biography and Michael Korda, in his biography) but only in passing, whereas Smith sheds considerable light on this subject and provides a lot of support for the contention that their relationship was a deep and loving one. Smith is also somewhat critical of Eisenhower's military performance, particularly during the North African Campaign, which led to his being "kicked upstairs" to deal with political problems and inter-allied conflicts. Smith spends a lot of time explaining why Eisenhower's talents as a politician were important in holding a coalition of nations together, and why he and not General Marshall was chosen to become the Supreme Commander of the European theatre. This book also contains a lengthy chapter on Eisenhower's tenure as President of Columbia University, which is only covered in a handful of pages by Ambrose and Korda. This chapter contains a brief discussion of events surrounding Eisenhower's failure to run for President of the US in 1948.
The final third of this book is concerned with Eisenhower's election and tenure as president. In many ways, this is the most interesting part of the book because it discusses in considerable detail Eisenhower's impact on events that have sometimes been forgotten. Smith shows Eisenhower to be a president who exercised sound judgment and held fast to his convictions, and as president acted decisively to: (1) end the war in Korea through an armistice instead of seeking a victory that might have required the use of nuclear weapons, (2) demonstrate his political acumen by getting his appointments past hostile conservative Republicans, (3) used indirect support for those who opposed Senator Joe McCarthy, but used more direct support to oppose the Bricker Amendment, which would have made treaties subject to continuing congressional review, (4) refuse to aid the French at Dien Bien Phu when this might also have required the use of nuclear weapons, (5) support CIA-led coups in Iran and Guatemala, which have led to continuing problems for the US, (6) force the French and British to leave Suez, (7) send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce court-ordered desegregation of public schools.
Smith shows that it was in the area of civil rights where Eisenhower's contributions have largely been forgotten. Contrary to what is generally believed, Smith shows that he did not consider his appointment of Earl Warren to be chief justice of the Supreme Court to be his greatest mistake, and he did not secretly oppose integration. Smith provides documentary evidence, which shows that quite to the contrary, Eisenhower: (1) enforced Truman's desegregation of the armed forces by actually eliminating the numerous segregated units, (2) desegregated the schools on military bases before the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education, (3) desegregated veterans' facilities and other facilities operated by the government, (4) desegregated the southern navy yards, and (5) appointed federal judges who made the civil rights programs of Kennedy and Johnson possible.
Smith depicts Eisenhower as a man who used common sense to solve problems, as a man of principle who often seemed aloof, and as President, one who seemed not to be doing much more than playing golf, but in actuality was directing things so subtly that his actions were unappreciated. The book quotes historian Garry Wills - "Eisenhower was not a political sophisticate, he was a political genius." In addition, he was a military man who warned against the military industrial complex and was a warrior who hated war.
This is a book that is highly relevant to our times as it speaks to questions of balanced budgets, military appropriations, our relationship with Russia and China, and to the origin of our conflict with Iran. This is a fine book, one that I hardily recommend to anyone interested in history or in reading a well-written non-fiction book.
Smith finds a great middle ground between meaningless detail (do we really care about the name of the corporal who drove Ike around in a Jeep in 1927?) and too glossy a story. Smith is, I think, fair in his coverage of Ike's highs as Supreme Commander and President and the lows of the same two periods. The writing is entertaining and the book moves along nicely.
The Kindle edition, however, is a problem. The text is full of misspelled words, and half way through the chapter titled Suez, all the text becomes italicized. There are graceful, readable italic fonts, and there are ungraceful, poorly kerned italic renderings. This version is exceptionally poor in both regards.
When the publisher sets an above-market price for an electronic version of a title, the buyer has every right to expect something error-free. Random House fails badly here. This is a shame because it detracts from an otherwise terrific book.
Although the book consists of over 760 pages of text and an additional 150 pages of notes and bibliography, the
narrative flow of the story is absorbing. Smith recounts complex military and political history in a way that is both understandable and entertaining. His writing style, unbiased presentation, and detailed documentation made me inclined to trust his judgment. Throughout the study, Smith draws useful parallels between Eisenhower and other American military and political leaders. In particular, Smith often compares and contrasts Eisenhower with Ulysees Grant in terms of decisiveness, relationship to subordinates, and military accomplishments. The most telling parallel lies in writing and in ability to communicate. Although not having the gift for words that Grant displayed in his Memoirs, Eisenhower was an excellent, clear writer, especially of his own war memoirs, and, when he wished to be, a skilled eloquent speaker.
Smith presents Eisenhower's strengths as a leader and as a person as well as his flaws. The overall impression of Eisenhower that emerges is of a strong, capable, politically masterful individual, as both general and president, who was "a man of principle, decency, and common sesne, whom the country could count on to do what was right. In both war and peace he gave the world confidence in American leadership." Eisenhower's accomplishments are inspiring in an America which frequently seems to be floundering for a sense of purpose and balance. Smith aptly describes Eisenhower as a "progressive conservative" who believed that "traditional American values encompassed change and progress." Eisenhower's moderation, high sense of responsibility, and heroism will appeal to many readers.
The book begins with a perceptive treatment of Eisenhower's early life with its humble beginnings in Texas and Kansas. A military career and attendance at West Point were something of a surprise choice for Eisenhower as they had been for Grant. The first third of Smith's book describes Eisenhower's early life and the many seemingly interminable assignments Eisenhower held as a major in the peacetime army. Eisenhower showed a talent for hard work and for impressing his superiors. He developed an ability to advance himself subtly and to use his contacts with those who would help him. When the United States entered WW II, Eisenhower's rise was meteoric; but it had been prepared over a long course of time.
Smith shows Eisenhower as a political leader in WW II who had the daunting task of coordinating the allied effort against Germany and working with highly driven and egotistical leaders in the United States, France, and Britain. Eisenhower's tact and self-confidence were rare and essential qualities indeed. As a military stategist, Eisenhower had mixed results, but he made critical decisions regarding the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Smith shows that Eisenhower richly deserved the accolades he received at the end of the war.
Following WW II, Eisenhower served as president of Columbia and as the commander of NATO before, with a show of reluctance, accepting the Republican presidential nomination in 1952. With the end of Eisenhower's presidency in 1961, many historians were critical; but Eisenhower's stature as president has grown with time. Smith finds Eisenhower the most successful 20th century president with the exception of FDR. Eisenhower kept the United States out of war, balanced the budget, and displayed firm, subtle leadership that was not always apparent to the public. He acted with care and prudence in Vietnam against the hawkish advice of his staff and he dealt effectively with crises in Berlin, China and elsewhere. (Some of his foreign policy ventures in Iran and Central America were ill-advised and unsuccessful.) In a non-divisive, non-confrontational way Eisenhower helped lead to the discrediting of the red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy. He built the national highway system and the St. Laurence Seaway. In 1956, following a heart attack and in the middle of a reelection campaign, Eisenhower showed courage in resolving the most controversial foreign policy issue in his presidency -- the Suez Canal crisis which pitted the United States against its allies, Britain, France, and Israel. In an understanded, politic way, Eisenhower also did more to advance civil rights than is commonly acknowledged. His Justice Department argued before the Supreme Court in favor of school desegregation in the Brown cases. In 1958, Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a desegration decree against the recalcitrant state governor.
Eisenhower's personal life and feelings remained enigmatical even to those close to him. Smith's book concentrates on Eisenhower's long marriage to Mamie Doud and the difficulties the couple endured over the years. Smith also describes the long relationship Eisenhower had during WW II with a young British woman, Kay Summersby. It appears that at the end of WW II, Eisenhower wrote to George Marshall about his intention to divorce Mamie and marry Kay. Marshall disuaded him from this course in no uncertain terms, and Eisenhower ended the relationship in a callous, peremptory way.
This study of Eisenhower and of what was valuable and decent in him can bring hope and wisdom to a difficult time. Smith's study deserves and surely will receive a wide readership and will stimulate much discussion. I am pleased that it was offered to interested lay readers for an advance review through the Vine program.
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