"American Caesar " is William Manchester's superbly crafted and supremely well researched biography of Douglas MacArthur, one of the greatest but most controversial military leaders in American history. MacArthur has been praised for his brilliant strategic and tactical abilities during both world wars and accomplishments as Military Governor in post-World War II Japan, and criticized for his overweening egoism and inability to subordinate himself to the wishes of his civilian superiors.
William Manchester writes with wit and candor as he chronicles MacArthur's life from his earliest days to his death in 1964, at age 84. Manchester's portrait of his subject is balanced and objective. We see MacArthur at his finest: capable and courageous on the battlefield during World War I, rising quickly to general officer rank as a result of his abilities; between the world wars, a progressive, reform-minded superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy, and later U.S. Army Chief of Staff; during World War II, a Medal of Honor winner, and the gifted but overly vainglorious commander of all Allied forces in the South Pacific, who achieved brilliant military successes with his "island-hopping" strategy; and later, as Military Governor of Japan, displaying a surprising magnanimity toward the conquered Japanese by introducing American-style democracy and liberal reforms. We also see him at his worst: pompous and vain, always seeking personal glory, often at his subordinates' expense; vindictive toward his subordinates when they disagreed with him; and finally, during the Korean War, the Supreme Commander whose hubris led him to openly defy his commander-in-chief, resulting in his relief by President Harry Truman.
"American Caesar" clearly shows why William Manchester is one of the pre-eminent biographers at work today. The book is written with obviously meticulous scholarship, insightful analysis, and crisp, sparkling prose. It stands alongside fellow biographer D. Clayton James' three-volume "The Years of MacArthur," as one of the two best accounts of Douglas MacArthur's life available today. Highly recommended!
on March 13, 2001
It is a sad fact that many people in this day and age would be unable to state who Douglas MacArthur was or what place in history he has assumed. As the Second World War drifts further into the annals of history, the lives and accomplishments of the war's great commanders are in danger of , as MacArthur himself said "slowly fading away".
Douglas MacArthur was a colossus. He did not merely play an important role in the war in the Pacific, he dominated it and went on to play a crucial role in the West's early response to Communism in the Far East. William Manchester's exhaustive biography paints a warts and all portrait of the General. Manchester expresses rightful admiration for MacArthur's strategic brilliance and his amazing role in the recontstruction of post-war Japan. Yet, he does not shy away from criticism of MacArthur's extraordinary vanity which, in many cases, almost led (and during the Korean War did lead) to the General's downfall. I finished the book far more enlightened on the character of this individual and yet was left to draw my own conclusions as to his place in history.
Manchester's book is not just an immensely readable, throughly documented portrait of Douglas MacArthur. It also serves as a valuable work on the prosecution of the war in the Pacific and the early years of the Cold War and draws some very valuable and raises some interesting questions on the origin of America's entry into the war in Vietnam.
Individuals such as Douglas MacArthur should not be forgotten. Love them or hate them, they played a critical role in the history of the 20th Century and to the lives which each and every one of us live today. "American Casear" does justice to all aspects of Douglas MacArthur's life and character and I have no doubts that it will fascinate anyone who picks it up.
5 stars without any hesitation whatsoever.
on January 11, 1999
Manchester has produced a book that covers the entire life of the controversial five star general, from his infancy to his death, in the finest of detail and in a lively literary style. - If you want to know about MacArthur, this is the book for you. The author very carefully presents facts about the general and lets you the reader make up your mind on where the truth lies. Manchester does not appear to "take sides" in this book; he does not take the general and make him a god, nor does he denigrate what the general has done. He presents the many sides of this mysterious general and lets you, the reader, put it all together which is not difficult, since Manchester provides you the tools to do it: plenty of rich detail, plenty of quotes, excerpts of memos and messages, much detail on his private family life. Again, Manchester does not tell the reader what to think. For example, with the fall of the Philippnes, it seems that the general has made up his mind to stay and, along with his family, expects in a matter-of-fact way to commit suicide rather than be taken prisoner by the Japanese. You wonder about his wife and child, but Manchester doesn't tell you what they want to do: he lets them speak. - An excellent biography and significant historical account. Probably the best ever on MacArthur whether you like the general or not.
on October 8, 2013
The book is brilliant: Just a fantastic biography of a fantastic subject. Unabashed 5-stars. There are many fine reviews on this site that cover the many excellent facets of the main character and his spellbinding life story.
Here's my problem. I'm sorry I'm putting this complaint here but I don't know where else to put it. The Kindle edition is chock-full of OCR errors that often result in gibberish-for example, "the" is printed as "die" dozens of times throughout the book. It's infuriating that the publisher/amazon sells this Kindle edition for $9 when it's clear that there's been no attempt at any kind of proofreading or quality control.
There are three-year old reviews that mention this problem and nothing has been done about it so obviously the publisher doesn't care. I like the Kindle format but I feel completely ripped off. It's an old book that is readily available at the local library.
on June 15, 2000
William Manchester's American Caesar is a nicely polished and thoroughly researched book covering the career of General Douglas MacArthur, arguably the most controversial and one of the best U.S. military leaders of the Twentieth Century. Manchester covers MacArthur's life from his early childhood to his death at age 84 in 1964. MacArthur's remarkable life and career spans the time from his youth spent on remote western military posts in the 1880's, through the two World Wars and the Korean Conflict, and his subsequent dismissal by President Truman and entry into GOP politics.
Douglas MacArthur was perfectly bred for military leadership and his future historical role. The son of a Civil War recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor and Military Governor of the Philippines, Douglas MacArthur surpassed even his father's amazing military and historical accomplishments. Manchester argues that MacArthur had a unique genius for military operations, from his quick promotion at age 38 to the command of the Rainbow Division in World War I, to his campaigns in the Pacific and his bold invasion at Inchon in the Korean War. MacArthur's military capabilities conceivably saved thousands of American lives. Typically his military moves were cunning and daring, bypassing enemy strongpoints and leading to victories at lower costs in terms of lives than operations undertaken by his U.S. military contemporaries.
The book's title, American Caesar, uniquely describes MacArthur's career as the liberator of the Philippines and the Military administrator of Japan. Perhaps no other American in history has held the type of power that MacArthur held in Japan as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. Yet his immense power was wielded with grace and an understanding of the Japanese people and their culture. MacArthur's long service in Asia uniquely suited him to this role.
MacArthur's weaknesses which ultimately led to his downfall at the hands of President Truman are explored. MacArthur learned that great military exploits are often achieved by acting against the will or explicit instructions of his superiors. Combining this trait with an immense ego, MacArthur's showdown with President Truman was almost unavoidable. This led to his firing and a lasting feud with Truman that ultimately tarnished MacArthur's reputation despite his incredible career and service.
Manchester presents MacArthur as a complex figure full of contradictions. MacArthur is shown as a warrior who exposed himself to extreme danger, but was often derisively referred to as "Dugout Doug" when he vainly surrounded himself with luxurious surroundings in his headquarters. He instituted liberal democratic reforms in Japan, then became a hard line conservative spokesman in the United States. By illuminating these contradictions inherent in MacArthur's personality, William Manchester presents General Douglas MacArthur's long and eventful life in a book which makes interesting and exciting reading.
on August 6, 2005
John Gunther wrote, "General MacArthur took more territory, with less loss of life, than any military commander since Darius the Great." To which I'll add...there've been a lot of commanders between the great Persian potentate and the great SCAP.
William Manchester's incisive "American Caesar" is an 800-page argument that the Supreme Allied Commander of the Southwest Pacific Area was, for all his numerous personal faults and jarring pomposity, the most brilliant, compelling commander in American history. For every GI killed under MacArthur, thirty Japanese were killed, a ratio Eisenhower or any other commander could only dream of. A scant fifty years after his Inchon landing, historians of even the most measured ilk, are proclaiming that radical move one of the most daring and decisive in history. The numbers alone are staggering. When the dust had settled from an amphibious assault that was discouraged by nearly every officer around him, just 500 Americans had died to 40,000 North Koreans, and the entire complexion of the war had completely changed.
So why is MacArthur's name largely forgotten in a popular culture that still holds iconic names like Patton and Bradley, Eisenhower, and Doolittle? First, it's a discouraging inevitability that only the worst battlefield tragedies are remembered. Gettysburg, Antietam, the Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Verdun in 1916. Terrific loss of life was the uniting feature in all these battles; not commanding excellence.
When 500 Americans die landing in a remote Far Eastern locale, what's the chance that ground will be hallowed and memorialized?
MacArthur also suffers at the expense of his politics, which were unabashedly conservative. Eisenhower might have been conservative and a vociferous private critic of FDR's New Deal, but he had the sense to measure his statements and then, only as the need arose. After the war, MacArthur took out his proverbial Dear Diary of Political Pet Peeves and shared his most personal views on every possible issue...certainly within the realm of his rights but not necessarily his legacy's best interests (especially when considered that historians and the academia that imprints history on John Q. Public is generally liberal.).
As impressive as MacArthur's military career is, his legacy as Occupation Commander and virtual post-war Potentate of Japan stands out not only for its remarkable success but the fact it's nearly forgotten. Maybe it's because of critics like noted Far Eastern "expert" Michael Schaller whose vicious screed "The Far Eastern General" strips MacArthur of any credit for nearly anything he ever did. It's more likely that unable to refute the power of MacArthur's imprint upon the world, the more liberal establishment is bent on ignoring it. I tend to think that MacArthur would rather have been attacked than forgotten.
What sets apart Manchester from Schaller or, to a certain extent, Schlessinger is that he doesn't allow his personal politics to interfere with what is his subject's objective legacy. Nor does Manchester's obvious appreciation for MacArthur's military accomplishments cloud his judgment on the General's personal excesses and rank paranoia.
MacArthur was constantly convinced the world was out to get him, even those on his own side. In retrospect, it's obvious that while Eisenhower and FDR held MacArthur in very little personal regard, their apparent lack of attention regarding his Pacific Plight was due to their very real intention to follow through on Rainbow Five and strike the Germans first.
It's also a disappointment that some of MacArthur's finest field commanders including Robert Eichelberger never got the public acknowledgment they were due, thanks to MacArthur's titanic ego. Eisenhower made every effort to spread the credit, but apparently, MacArthur thought battlefield glory a zero-sum game.
MacArthur was a very great man, whose personality, thirst for power, and idyllic view of the world as his personal stage was perhaps suited for an earlier time. His intellect was unparalleled. After meeting with him in Hawaii, FDR told his doctor, "Give me an aspirin before I go to bed. In fact, give me another aspirin to take in the morning. In all my life nobody has ever talked to me the way MacArthur did."
Eisenhower, who was forever disenchanted with his former boss after their time together in the Philippines, said, "He did have a hell of an intellect. He had a brain."
He was the General you always dreamed of being as a little boy...until you grew up and realized that history is reserved for very rare men and those reservations were booked a long time ago.
on November 26, 1997
Manchester always writes a great book--he is a superb stylist and has an unusual knack for placing a historical figure in the context of his times. (I have previously read his biographies of H.L. Mencken and Churchill as well as Death of a President and The Arms of Krupp.) In this book, he really attempts to explore what motivated Douglas MacArthur, an extremely complex warrior-statesman. Especially good is his review of the famous Truman sacking of the general during the Korean War; in Manchester's eyes, this incident evolved out of ambiguous directions from the Joint Chiefs and the Chiefs' unwillingness to confront a powerful, winning senior officer. Especially amazing is the breadth of experience MacArthur had throughout his life--from Wild West stations with his general father through the post-Spanish-American War period in the Philippines, then the trenches of World War I, and finally the general's phenomenal recoveries after early disasters in the Philippines in World War II and in Korea. This is a balanced though sympathetic review of MacArthur's life--Manchester concedes that he was both a vain popinjay with a touch of paranoia, but also a brilliant military strategist and a true old-style liberal democrat in his viceregency in Japan after World War II. This is a "must read" for anyone interested in World War II and is a good companion to Manchester's personal account of his own experiences as a Marine in the South Pacific.
"American Caesar" is the incredible biography of a modern American legend; General of the Army Douglas MacArthur. Certainly no other modern American military leader engenders such controversy and hotly-expressed differences in opinion than does General MacArthur, and no one does a better job at providing a definitive historical biography than William Manchester. This is truly a magnificent book, a spellbinding story splendidly told by a master of English prose, rendered in a flawless, comprehensive, and objective treatment of this complex, often contradictory, and brilliant leader of men in desperate combat. This is no mean feat, as anyone venturing to understand the man, his eccentricities, and his actions during the tenure of his fifty-year career as a virtual American military institution in the Orient can testify.
According to Manchester, MacArthur was a man of consummate contradictions; vain, mercurial, often baffling, imperious, childish and unable to admit he erred. Yet he was at times also iron-willed, charming, and absolutely brilliant. For Manchester, MacArthur was unquestionably the most gifted military man this country had ever seen. Indeed, it is undeniable that he was a man of incredible vision, although he often acted against his own better judgment, and was finally brought down both by his own demons and his damnable inability to admit he had made mistakes. Reading this book, one recognizes what a fascinating paradox MacArthur actually was.
Manchester traces the General's long and illustrious career, which caught fire and purpose as Commander of the famed Rainbow Division during the First World War. Following the war, he trudged through a myriad of assignments, finally retiring long before the start of WWII hostilities to become a military advisor (with portfolio) for the Philippine government. Of course, with the rapid build up of American forces and the recognition of coming trouble with Japan, he was reinstated and became the modern day Caesar referred to in the title. Manchester argues that MacArthur, like his father before him, had a quite unique genius for military leadership, and although he barely escaped being sacked (as both the Army and navy Commanding Generals in Hawaii had been after Pearl Harbor), he went on to become a rallying point and inspirational leader throughout the long and difficult Pacific campaign.
At the end of WWII, MacArthur was assigned as the overall Military Governor of Japan, and served both in this capacity and also as the controversial commander of American forces in Korea until finally relieved under duress by President Truman over the question of insubordination that after fifty years cost the General his career. The circumstances surrounding MacArthur's dismissal are a story in and of themselves, and Manchester explains them in a particularly fascinating way, leaving the reader to speculate to himself regarding the apparent paradoxes and seeming contradictions conflicting with each other in one singularly remarkable, accomplished, and unique personality. This book is a remarkable, masterfully written account of the long and distinguished career of one of the most influential military leaders in the history of the Republic, and this is also a book that any self-respecting student of modern history should include prominently in his personal library. Enjoy!
on March 4, 2006
This is perhaps the best biography of an American ever written. Manchester juxtaposes the good MacArthur (the military genius and patriotic family man) with the bad MacArthur (the megalomaniacal general whose lapse led to his entire air force being destoryed on the ground at Leyte; not even his wife called him "Douglas"). MacArthur is still one of the most polarizing figures in American history; I have spoken to WW2 and Korean veterans who either love him or hate him. This book is a study of greatness. No matter your opinion of MacArthur, one cannot deny the fact that he graduated from West Point with one of the highest averages ever, or how his post-war control of Japan shaped that nation's history. An excellent look into the life of an American Hero/Villain.
on November 4, 2001
"American Caesar" is a highly literate, extremely well researched biography of General Douglas MacArthur. Since the General's Army career spanned almost 50 years, the time sweep of "AC" is quite extensive, but Mr. Manchester maintains reader interest throughout. As a work of history, it should qualify as a masterpiece. The strongest point of "AC" is that the persona of the General never gets lost in a sea of facts or too many characters. It remains a biography, first and foremost. The reader always is aware that s(he) is reading about a human being- with strong points and weak points just like all of us. I was impressed with the obvious importance of family, especially his wife and son to the General. Major historical figures like F.D.R. and Harry Truman take a backseat to the main character. Some readers might maintain that is exactly where they belong! While "AC" covers the General's heroism in World War I, the focus is on his military campaigns in World War II. Great detail is given to his controversial and hazardous- initial retreat from the Philippines to Australia and his push back north, capturing strategic New Guinea and retaking the Philippines. To his credit, author Manchester, a former Marine, strives to demonstrate that the General's tactics saved thousands of U.S. casualties, compared to the frontal assaults on other Pacific islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa. For example, the General bypassed and isolated the strong Japanese garrison on Rabaul in eastern New Guinea, rather than attack in force. He also talked the Navy and Marines down from a senseless, hazardous and tactically useless invasion of Formosa (Taiwan). His casualty rates are also compared very favorably to those incurred by General Dwight Eisenhower at Normandy and the Bulge. (The two did not exactly admire one another). If there are any weak points in "AC", they are minor. One could argue that the bio of the General is not sufficiently critical, but this reader would defer license to a talented author. One could also argue that too much space is allocated to the General's troubles with Harry Truman during the Korean War. Since so many identify the General with that particular segment of his career, it would be difficult for Manchester to pass lightly over it. (The author does not exactly admire HST). A note of warning: The MAPS in the paperback version of "AC" are too small for a close following of the SW Pacific War. If amazon could offer a large print/ hardcover version of "AC", the extra cost would be worth it. I used a magnifying glass! Inadequate maps seem to be a requirement for military tales "AC" has plenty of company in this regard. I hope this review has done credit to a first rate work of historical biography. Over 844 pages, followers of history and military affairs will not be disappointed.