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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dewey Didn't Defeat Truman
Approaching the presidential election of 1948, Republicans were optimistic. They had recaptured both houses of Congress in the midterm elections of 1946, had a seasoned presumptive nominee in New York Governor Tom Dewey, and looked set to end the Democrats' decade-and-a-half hold on the White House. In "1948," author David Pietrusza looks back at how those GOP hopes...
Published on October 27, 2011 by Eric Mayforth

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pietrusza's formula doesn't work as well this time
Could David Pietrusza's latest campaign history be falling victim to the "Law of Diminishing Election Returns"? 1920 was superb; 1960, a bit less satisfying, but still very enjoyable. With the '48 election's dramatic historical backdrop -- the earliest stirrings of the Cold War and the civil rights movement, the nation's ungainly postwar stumbles back to full prosperity,...
Published on May 15, 2012 by Christopher Barat


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT 1948, March 18, 2012
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
David Pietrusza recreates his role as a master story teller. I first encountered Pietrusza in his book about the 1920 election where there were many intrigues, the election campaign not being one of them as Warren Harding won easily. As with the book about the 1920 election Pietrusza weaves in other aspects of the 1948 campaign that help shape that election to include civil rights, discontent within the Democratic Party, attempts to recruit Dwight Eisenhower into the campaign, Communist infiltration into the government and Henry Wallace's campaign. Several obscured politicians were no longer obscured after 1948 to include Hubert Humphrey, John Kennedy, Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon.

In "1948" Pietrusza tells the story of how an unpopular president could possibly win re-election against a determined opposition party who had not won a presidential election in twenty years. He traces the split within the Democratic Party that resulted in Strom Thurmond running as a Dixiecrat to save the south from having civil rights forced upon them. He traces another split within the Democratic Party as Henry Wallace ran as a Populist candidate. Wallace could have been president but the Democrats that he was to leftist and turned elsewhere when Franklin Roosevelt left the door open for them to do so at the 1944 convention. Truman is now hailed as a great president who told things as they were and was not afraid of who he made angry. He is hailed as one of the great presidents of the 20th century. But he was unpopular and Pietrusza points out that he earned that unpopularity.

But the Republican Party ran a timid campaign so as to not lose. They controlled Congress and he Administration used their control of both houses of Congress as a campaign stick with which to defeat them. Governor Dewey of New York was heavily favored but ran a very dignified campaign that essentially bored everybody. His running mate, Earl Warren of California, did not really want to be Vice President and was probably one of the happier politicians to lose a campaign. Pietrusza records it all.

The two splinter campaigns of Wallace and Thurmond also got much covereage by Pietrusza. Wallace, of course, was bitter over how he lost out on being Roosevelt's successor and thought he could make a big dint in the electorate -- not necessarily win -- and deprive Truman of re-election. Thurmond and Dixiecrats had no illusion of winning either but thought if they could carry enough southern states they could throw the election to the House and force the Democrats to back off their civil rights ambitions.

There was one curious reference to one of Dewey's staff members that was never explained. In the photo section, Pietrusza referenced Elliott V. Bell as the "architect of the disaster". However, Bell is mentioned only two or three times in the book and what exactly he did that killed what could have been a winning campaign was never explained. Dewey ran a dull campaign for which Bell may be partially responsible but maybe other campaign staffers could also share the blame. Pietrusza never explained why Bell could be singled out.

Overall, an excellent account of hte 1948 election. Pietrusza does not take sides and explains the dynamics of the campaign and why Truman beat the odds.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining, but More Anecdotal than Analytical, June 23, 2012
By 
Rule 62 Ken (Abbotsford, BC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
David Pietrusza is an outstanding author of American political history, and anything written about the 1948 election is like porn to an American political history geek, so Pietrusza's latest book 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America has all the natural ingredients to be a great read. It's a very good book, but not quite as good as the author's two earlier forays into numerically titled presidential election tomes (the exceptional 1960 LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies and the amusing 1920: The Year of Six Presidents).

This book isn't as much an analysis of the most famous upset in US Presidential election history, as it is a series of anecdotes, many of them unbelievable for their fly-on-the-wall quality. Going into the 1948 election, it seemed as if Harry Truman was a dead duck come November. The Democratic party had split into several factions, with the left wing supporting former Vice President Henry Wallace, and the southern segregationists backing Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Many of those who remained in the party viewed Truman as a lightweight, as someone in over his head. He had alienated labor, a huge supporter of the Democratic party. He had delicate issues such as civil rights and the fate of the Jews displaced as a result of the second world war, and inflation was rampant and seemingly out of control. Meanwhile, the Republicans looked like they had a sure winner in crime-busting New York Governor Thomas Dewey. The entire media seemed to have elected Dewey without the formality of a vote and many leading Democrats such as Eleanor Roosevelt and her son James viewed Truman as a pariah.

Pietrusza tells the story of how Truman turned things around by drawing support from Wallace and his Progressives, who became fractured from their association with the Communist Party, and how he limited the loss of support to segregationists by seeming to be all things to everyone on the issue of civil rights. He also describes how Thomas Dewey snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by running a sterile campaign that failed to fight back against attacks, failed to showcase the candidate in swing states, and that paid the price of assuming victory rather than earning it.

Readers looking for an analysis of the 1948 election are better off reading Zachary Karabell's excellent book The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election. Pietrusza leaves the reader wondering whether Truman's victory was the result of a masterful campaign strategy or just dumb luck, and he covers his bases by writing in such a way that both are possible, without committing to any verdict on Truman. But what makes this such an enjoyable read are the stories Pietrusza tells, and he's got a million of them, from the way the candidates' spouses felt (according to Pietrusza, Mrs. Earl Warren, the wife of Dewey's running mate, dreaded the possibility of her husband winning and actually voted for Truman) to how the Chicago Tribune came to post the headline "Dewey Defeats Truman".

Although this isn't Pietrusza's best book, it's still a terrific read either for the history geek, or for someone who just likes to read gossip about a President and his contemporaries.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Difficult Read Without a Corresponding Reward for the Effort, June 17, 2012
By 
Randy Sales (Washington, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
David Pietrusza's summary of Truman's 1948 re-election deals with a riveting moment in history. However, Mr. Pietrusza's extremely detailed rendition of this time fails to leverage the material effectively. Mr. Pietrusza's picture of Truman seems to portray him as a desperate and frightened individual, undeserving of his place in history, only grudgingly acknowledging this president's courage at this critical juncture in his career.

I persisted in struggling through this overly detailed book, in hopes of garnering new knowledge about this period and this history making election. I found myself ultimately disappointed and regretting the time I invested. The book is difficult to follow because of the inordinate amount of detail and the lack of information to connect the details. Mr. Pietrusza considerately includes a Cast of Characters section at the start of the book, in hopes of enabling readers to keep track of individuals as they are mentioned. However, close to half of the characters I needed a reference for did not appear in this section.

The book should either have been shorter, with fewer characters and less detail, or longer, with more selective detailing and a better job of connecting the dots.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Curtis What else should we learn from History???, November 7, 2013
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
Interesting, enlightening, and at times amusing. Politicians today should read it and learn lessons. He is definitely underrated in the list of Presidents !!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dewey defeats Dewey!, August 24, 2013
By 
Richard Vanier (BRENTWOOD, CA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
Never underestimate The Republican Party's ability to snatch defeat from The Jaws of Victory! This book is a must read for members of The GOP on how not to run a presidential campaign. The Dewey Campaign of 1948 had startling similarities to The McCain Campaign of 2008 and The Romney Campaign of 2012.

Pietrusza gives us an insider view into the election The Republicans lost because of their own ineptness and arrogance. Truman was an unpopular President living in the large shadow of FDR. Two factions of The New Deal Coalition bolted The Democrat Party. The left wing Progressive Party and the segregationist States Right Party ran against Truman and should of cost him the election.

Because of arrogance or suicidal tendencies, Dewey took the high road and never attacked Truman during the campaign. I guess we could say that "Dewey mailed it in"! Truman on the other hand, attacked Dewey and the "Do Nothing" Republicans with everything he had. He went barnstorming across the country with his famous whistle stop tours. Truman was able to cobble together enough of The New Deal Coalition(labor, minorities, Catholics and farmers) to win a narrow victory over Dewey.

Dewey was the Mitt Romney of 1948, he did not cause any excitement in The GOP rank & file. Lost in the dust of Truman's dramatic victory is the fact The Democrats regained control of The Congress lost to The GOP in 1946.

As you probably have surmised, I am no fan of Truman. But I have to give him credit for running a brilliant underdog campaign and letting The Democrats hold on to power for 4 years longer that they should of.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fills in some blanks, July 22, 2013
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
Having liver through it as a kid, interesting to read about as an old man. Men are all flawed. History reveals things about Dewey and Truman, each flawed in his own way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars History Repeating Itself, February 23, 2013
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
I was amazed at the similarities between the 1948 election and last year's meltdown with Governor Romney. The Democrats have been honing their campaign skills for quite a while as is evidenced in this excellent history so wonderfully brought to life by Mr. Pietrusza. The Republicans in 1948 were just as weak and concilliatory as they are today. The next Republican candidate must read this book to better educate him/herself on the opponent's strategy: Victory at all costs!
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Transformation that Wasn't?, January 10, 2013
By 
Paul A. Spengler "Senex" (Rochester, New York United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
David Pietrusza has written an informative, interesting history of the presidential election of 1948. He has not, however, convinced this reader than the election transformed America.

In Pietrusza's account, the winner, Harry Truman is depicted as an intelligent, well meaning man who rose above his origins in Missouri's Pendergast machine, to become a capable, generally honest president. It is clear, however, that Truman was ill prepared for the job and as a first term president was often maladroit. In domestic policy, he largely followed Roosevelt, with the Fair Deal serving as a continuating of the New Deal. In foreign policy, he was more willing that FDR to respond vigorously to Soviet challenges. However, his foreign policy was part of a growing bi-partisan consensus that embraced both Democrats like Harry Truman, George Marshall, and Hubert Humphrey and Republicans like Arthur Vandeburg and Truman's 1948 presidential opponent Thomas E. Dewey. As for domestic policy, Dewey's approach would have focused on consolidating the New Deal, not repealing it. Again, the election may have been significant, but hardly transformational.

Thomas E. Dewey emerges as a highly competent man, who probably had greater executive ability than Truman. However, his icy personality, and his refusal to debate issues, left him at the mercy of Truman, who waged a pretty demagogic campaign, pillorying Dewey as the personification of "plutocracy." The only time Dewey showed real passion was in his debate with Harold Stassen, who wanted to outlaw the Communist Party. Dewey forcefully argued that you can't outlaw ideas.

The author basically dismisses Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace as a man motivated by personal resentment towards Trumn and as putty in the hands of the Communist party members and fellow travelers who dominated his campaign. I see no reason to disagree with that assessment.

Pietrusza is rather lenient, perhaps too lenient, toward Strom Thurmond, the States Rights candidate. In his account, Thurmond emerges as a moderate southerner, even somewhat progressive, who was rather reluctantly drawn into the States Rights movement. The author also goes into some detail about how Thurmond looked after his illegitimate mulatto daughter, making sure she received a college education. What goes largely unsaid is Thurmond's later role during the 1950's and 1960's in the south's bitter resistance to civil rights and in building up an ultra-conservative, southern wing of the GOP: one that would have appalled Thomas E. Dewey or even the more conservative Robert A. Taft. Largely thanks to Thurmond, and people like him, the GOP abandoned its earlier role as the party of civil rights.

One of the more interesting details of the book is the fact that H. L. Menken, the renown journalist and scourge of middle America, the Bible belt, and southern fundamentalism actually supported Thurmond.

In reading Pietrusza's account of the 1948 election, this reader was frequently reminded of the 2012 election: A Republican candidate with demonstrable executive ability and a record of substantial success, but a somewhat cold demeanor, challenging a Democrat with a somewhat uneven presidental record, but better ability to relate to the average voter. In both cases, the Democrat won by stirring up his voting base with attacks on Republican "plutocracy" and largely misrepresenting his opponent's record. Also, in 1948 as in 2012, the Democrats clearly had the better party organization (Dewey's reluctance to confront Truman on issues was largely the result of the strategy adopted by his top organizational people, including Ed Jaeckle, Dewey's right hand man and head of the GOP in Buffalo.)

The author has also written histories of the 1920 and 1960 presidential elections, which this reviewer looks forward to reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 1948 - a great read, June 13, 2012
By 
vincent e. donahue (Woodbridge, VA, US) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
I found the book to be an easy read. After finishing, I ordered the books on 1960 and 1920. I was intrigued with Dewey's threat to bring impeachment proceedings against FDR in 1944, asserting that FDR knew beforehand about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Dewey was dissuaded by General Marshall because it would alert the Japanese that we had broken their code and jeopardize the ongoing war effort. Did FDR know? A lot of people think so. If you are a political junky, I recommend this book highly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Most enjoyable reading of afantstic year, May 9, 2012
This review is from: 1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America (Hardcover)
I read this author's book on the 1960 election on 25 Nov 2008 and enjoyed it so much that when I saw he had a book on the 1948 election I knew I had to read it. It is almost as enjoyable as the book on the 1960 election, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I enjoyed living the political year 1948, since during most of that year I looked forward to the November election with fearful gloom. As I read this book I knew that no matter how desperate things looked November would be a giddily great time. I think the author pays a bit more attention to the Wallace candidacy than necessary, but I have no other complaint about what he covers in the book. There are a few minor errors I noted: On page 90 he says Harold Stassen was the youngest govenor ever, but he is wrong--there was a Governor of Michigan, Stevens T. Mason, who was elected when 24 and re-elected when 26, and California's J. Neely Johnson was elected governor in 1855 when he was 30. Stassen was 31 when elected governor of Minnesota in 1938. (the fourth youngest governor ever was Bill Clinton--32 when elected governor in 1978.) And on page 220 the author says the Barkley-Chandler primary contest was in 1936 but it was, as even I remebered, in 1938. And on page 247 he refers to Seantor Chad Gurney but he should have known it was Senator Chan Gurney he meant. I suppose the book is not as elegantly written as some political histories but it was sure great reading of that amazing year.
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1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America
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