From Publishers Weekly
A deep affection existed between President Truman, a self-educated Midwesterner and the only 20th-century president who didn't attend college , and his secretary of state, Dean Acheson, a wealthy Ivy league sophisticate. Researching his biography of Truman at the Truman Library, McCullough came across the extensive correspondence that began as both left office. More than 80% of the letters cover Eisenhower's administration. No more prescient than other statesmen, neither Truman nor Acheson doubted the overwhelming threat of communism. Both considered Ike deplorably weak (subsequent historians disagree) and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, unnecessarily pugnacious (subsequent historians agree). Both men also sound surprisingly contemporary as they worry about right-wing extremists taking over the Republican Party. Like all letters, these contain gossip about friends and spouses, vacation itineraries, and news of birthdays, holidays, awards, and medical problems. Many readers may skim these parts, but overall they will receive an insightful, if sometimes partial, view of cold war world politics through the eyes of two thoroughly admirable American leaders. 12 illus. (Nov.) (c)
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A revelatory collection of letters, these missives exchanged between a former president and his secretary of state defy simple characterization. They contain political gossip and plans for speeches and for Truman’s library and memoirs. Interpersonally, they are infused with mutual esteem expressed in thanks for visits, book recommendations, and commiseration over advancing age’s accumulation of ailments and deceased friends. How did two men so opposite as Truman, the Missouri farmer, and Acheson, an epitome of the East Coast establishment, get along so well? Truman biographer David McCullough explores the question in his insightful introduction, suggesting a consonance of the men’s political principles as the basis of their friendship, which deepened, or so it seems from these letters, through their low opinion of Truman’s successors, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson. But perhaps the explanation resides in the way they valued candor. After Acheson brutally critiqued the manuscript of Truman’s memoir, its author replied: “There’s nothing worse for a man’s character than friends who tell him always how good he is.” Valuable to historians, the divulgences in these letters will equally intrigue history readers. --Gilbert Taylor