on September 24, 2003
Some might argue that the job Tom Wicker has done here is a perfect fit for the Eisenhower presidency - workmanlike, efficient, strong enough to keep your interest but not compelling enough to make the reader feel like an expert on the President or develop a strong viewpoint about him. ... I would have liked a little more. (Something, for instance, on the Interstate Highway system would have been helpful. Or his views/feelings on postwar culture.)
on December 4, 2002
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. If you happen to dislike Ike as much as Wicker does, then you might derive some sadistic satisfaction from reading this partisan screed. If you prefer to read biographies that are fair and balanced, then you should steer well clear of this bitter little tome.
Wicker damns Eisenhower not for what he did, but for what he failed to accomplish, e.g. end the Cold War and bring about racial harmony. He ignores the peace and unprecedented and widespread prosperity that marked the Eisenhower Administrations. He appears unaware of recently declassified Soviet documents that credit Eisenhower with averting nuclear war (on several occasions). He attempts weakly to blame Eisenhower for the Vietnam War, and to absolve JFK of any complicity. He manages to interpret ordering the 101st Airborne Division to enforce de-segregation as "doing next to nothing" to support Civil Rights.
Wicker has nothing but contempt for Eisenhower, and his prejudice is plain and wearisome. Wicker is a snob and he indulges in silly elitism: Ike was a bad President because he enjoyed Western novels and golf; and, because he didn't like Picasso. Years ago, Wicker wrote a biography of Nixon, called ONE OF US. His thesis was that Nixon was destroyed by a self-loathing American middle class who recognized him as one of their own. Because Nixon was not a patrician, he was not fit to rule. If you buy that claptrap, you might like this book.
Mr. Wicker is certainly fortunate that Stephen Ambrose is no longer alive. Mr. Ambrose, who wrote the definitive biography of Eisenhower, would have flayed Wicker publicly for this careless and mean-spirited drivel. Readers would do well to pass this book over and instead read Ambrose's abridged one-volume life of Eisenhower. Ambrose's thesis is that Eisenhower was "a great and good man" (and one of America's finest Presidents) and he provides abundant evidence to support that claim.
on December 11, 2002
I have read all of the books in the "American Presidents" series published thus far, and this is a very disappointing entry in an otherwise great series. Tom Wicker is a journalist, not a historian, and it shows. He merely presents a narrative chronology of Eisenhower's presidency, devoting only a few paragraphs to his life before he entered the Oval Office. In what is essentially a long magazine article, you never learn a thing about Eisenhower as a person, and Eisenhower emerges as a two-dimensional figure, not the fascinating man that he was. Worst of all, Wicker is so one-sided in his coverage, he tries to find fault in even Eisenhower's unmitigated successes. This ends up simply a book-length critique. It is blinkered and one-sided, with no sense of perspective or context. There are many better biogrpahies of Eisenhower available. Skip this one.
on November 16, 2013
It is almost unfair to review this biography of President Dwight D. Eisenhower from Tom Wicker because after even just the first few pages it becomes painfully obvious that he is the wrong choice to pen this edition.
While reading through the American Presidents series, I had usually always been impressed by the authors' ability to maintain some semblance of objectivity. With this installment, though, it is made impeccably clear that Wicker disliked the Eisenhower Administration. Wicker rarely says a good word about Ike the entire book, and even when he does, those statements are backed by a lot of "buts" and "ifs". Basically, Wicker blames President Eisenhower for all his failings but doesn't give him any credit for his successes.
This was terribly disappointing to me, because I know that there is so much more to Ike than what I just slogged through. This book gives very little detail about the man himself (the parts I really like about this series) and spends almost no time on his "formative years" out of office (remember how those were key passages in the earlier books?).
I realize that so many glowing books have been written about Eisenhower that some balance is needed, but this is not the series for that to happen. Wicker should have gone out and wrote his own book on the subject...not force armchair historians like myself to wade through his veiled (and sometimes even not-so-veiled) critiques.
Yet, like I said, I cannot fully blame Wicker himself for this book, as he wrote about Eisenhower as he saw fit and I can respect that. Perhaps more of the attention should fall to overseer Arthur Schlesinger, who apparently chose Wicker...the wrong man for this particular job.
on June 19, 2006
There really could have been so much more said of this man, this General who led our troops during the Second World War, who entered politics in order to preserve the peace. In this short volume (the series is generally short and introductory in nature) the author, Tom Wicker, misses so many chances to engage his reader into discovering Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Something I found especially difficult to ignore was the glaring omission of any mention (I believe there was but one fleating reference) of the Interstate Highway Act...something which arguably did more to change the face of American life and culture than any other measure of the time.
Wicker does manage to capture a bit of character in discussing the 34th President of the United States. We are introduced to a man who served his country as both a military commander and as Commander-in Chief, who, following his first-hand experiences in war beleived that war should always be the option of last resort. Eisenhower's Farewell Address, warning his country against the dangers of an organized military complex, still is remarkable today.
However, what Mr. Wicker does most successfully is present Eisenhower's failures. As president, Eisenhower was unwilling to spend political capital on divisive, politically-charged issues such as the growing tension of the Civil Rights struggle and the anti-communist witch hunts spurned by Senator Joseph McCarthy and HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Commitee). A more compelling figure might have stood up and directed his country through such difficult times; Eisenhower failed to act.
Unfortunately, so does Wicker. The pages here feel as though the author slept through most of the writing. The book skims the surface of any real substantive discovery of what Wicker refers to as "the most popular president of modern times."
As I write, our country is in the midst of a highly contentious presidential campaign, including, today, the sharply-fought Pennsylvania primary. In light of the furor of the ongoing campaign, I have been trying to revisit the American presidents in the short series of biographies edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. I thought a consideration of our 34th President, Dwight D. Eisenhower would be especially appropriate for these tumultous events. I was alive during the Truman presidency but Eisenhower was the first president I can remember. I have always had the sense that he was, somehow, undervalued as a leader. Thus I was eager to read Tom Wicker's brief biography.
Wicker admits at the outset that he was never a political supporter of Eisenhower. With that in mind, his admiration for Eisenhower as a person and for some of his accomplishments as President comes through in this book. I didn't find this book as harsh or unfair towards Eisenhower as did some of my fellow reviewers. Yet I agree that Eisenhower warrants a more detailed look than Wicker's and, indeed, deserves more.
Eisenhower (1890 -- 1969) was born in Texas but grew up in Kansas. He served two terms as the 34th president (1953 -- 1961). Wicker's book, probably for reasons of space, quickly passes over Eisenhower's early life, including his extraordinary military career, to focus on the eight years of his presidency.
The 1950s were a difficult time in which the United States and the U.S.S.R came perilously close to war on several occasions. Wicker offers Eisenhower qualified praise for his foreign policy and for his role as a "man of peace." Eisenhower ended the war in Korea and worked for disarmament even though, in Wicker's terms he "fumbled" on opportunity to secure a nuclear test-ban treaty late in his administration as a result of his decision to authorize a final U-2 flight over Russia. Wicker gives Eisenhower high praise for his handling of the Suez Crisis in 1956, which he describes as the President's finest hour, and for his calming influence after the U.S.S.R launched Sputnik in 1957, leading to panic among many Americans over our educational system and scientific and military readiness. Wicker faults Eisenhower for his engagin in covert warfare in Guatamala and Iran and he is vaguely critical of Eisenhower's role in precipitating what would become America's involvement in Vietnam.
In domestic affairs, Wicker focuses almost entirely of Eisenhower's role in discrediting Senator Joseph McCarthy and in his actions regarding Civil Rights. Many writers besides Wicker are critical of Eisenhower for not being more agressive against McCarthy. But as Wicker shows, Eisenhower worked effectively to bring about McCarthy's demise, not the least of which work was in allowing him to self-destruct. Eisenhower's approach may well have been more effective and less divisive to the country than a more confrontational approach.
Wicker also is highly critical of Eisenhower for his less than full support of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education and for his failure to exercise the moral suasion both he and his office possessed to implement civil rights. Many admirers of Eisenhower have come to the same conclusion. Yet, Eisenhower used force to protect the rights of African American students in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. And Eisenhower's two immediate successors in the presidency were themselves slow to commit to the civil rights movement. A recent book by David Nichols, "A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Civil Rights Revolution" (2007) reassess in part Eisenhower's contributions behind the scenes to the cause of civil rights.
The 1950s are sometimes regarded as a time of somnolescence and conformity in the United States and sometimes as a subject of sentimentalized nostalgia. Eisenhower had proven his ability as a leader during WW II and he served the nation well, even Wicker admits, as President during a difficult era. According to one of his advisers quoted by Wicker, Eisenhower's greatest strength was "in getting people to compromise divergent views without anyone's surrender of principle." (p. 138) In view of the never-ending tumult our country has undergone since the 1960s, one can do worse than the balance, sanity, and quietly effective leadership that characterized the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
on January 25, 2009
This is a general outline of Eisenhower's eight-year presidential term. The volume (presumably limited by series format) includes a 140-page text, notes, a bibliography, and milestones.
Ike's formative life and military career are limited to a few text pages. Important presidential episodes (the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953; the United Fruit Company, the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala, and Oppenheimer's security revocation in 1954; McCarthy's rise and fall; Ike's rejection of the British/French/Israeli assault on Suez in 1956; heart problems & stroke; Vietnam; Castro and Cuba; Nixon relationship; USSR diplomacy; warnings of the `Military-Industrial Complex,' beloved status, etc.) are lucidly but briefly related without elaboration.
The author provides a useful, basic primer on Ike's two terms: it should not be mistaken for a full-fledged biography of the man or his times. The lack of a more comprehensive discussion of Eisenhower's relationship (as a commander-in-chief and alumnus) with the military is lamentable, but (given 2002 publication) perhaps understandable. A real assessment of his relationship with the CIA (given the subsequent fates of Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba) is also a neglected subject.
Nonetheless, Wicker's outline is helpful to readers (like me) who, in later life, need easy access to a concise term record (the two-page `Milestones' is one of the best of Times series).
on July 23, 2013
I'm very surprised by the 4 and 5 star reviews. This was a decidedly average biography. It condenses and recites the basic outline of Eisenhower's life, though 85% of the book devoted to his Presidency. It is poorly organized, provides some context, but it is often dry or superficial in its treatment. Another reviewer correctly described this book as reading like a long magazine article. My perspective would be more akin to reading a long, fleshed-out checklist or encyclopedia entry. It was not awful. It did not waste my time. But this book does not make Ike and his times come alive (as some of the better writers in this series have).
on June 1, 2011
For the reader (such as myself) who is more familiar with General Eisenhower than President Eisenhower, one who has perhaps come by the notion that the Eisenhower administration embodied a less-interesting era in American political history, a complacent lull between the decade of WWII and the decade of JFK, LBJ, and MLK, this book may well serve as impetus to further study. It certainly brings into focus many events the gravity and context of which I was only dimly aware. Due to its necessary brevity, the book can hardly be expected to treat any particular issue with a great deal of detail - this is by no means the author's fault - he seems however to assume that moral posturing and a wisdom informed of hindsight can compensate for depth.
The author takes Eisenhower to task for failing, or refusing, to push a civil-rights agenda beyond the barest minimum dictated by the Supreme Court, and finds space to present anecdotal material the relevance of which can only be to suggest that Eisenhower was at heart a racist. Now I would not presume to know the man's inner sentiments, nor what he felt he could or could not do, politically, at the time, but I would consider whether the country was, in the mid-1950s, truly ready for a revolution in race relations. Again, I don't pretend to know for certain; it is only something to ponder. And there is a considerable body of anecdotal evidence indicating that LBJ, whilst taking a more decisive stand on civil rights, nonetheless engaged in some unashamedly bigoted language when off the record. Certainly Eisenhower, reared in Kansas at the turn of the last century, would not have been immune to certain post-Reconstruction attitudes. (While the author does not hint at Southern attitudes, he does view Eisenhower's ascent as indicative of a partisan shift in the South, which subsequent history - Johnson, Carter, Clinton - would seem to refute.)
In the realm of foreign affairs, I was interested to learn something of the Guatemala intervention, particularly the egregious connexions between Eisenhower associates "Beetle" Smith and the Dulles brothers with the United Fruit company...
Although the author's prose reads quickly, there are occasional instances of awkward sentence structure. Furthermore:
On p17, Eisenhower is said to have entered the White House on Jan. 20, 1952; obviously this should read 1953, as he election was in Nov. 1952.
On p.35, Eisenhower is described as a "virulent" anti-communist. This word seems far more appropriately applied to Joe McCarthy. Eisenhower could be described as a "staunch" or "convinced" anti-communist, but "virulent"? This seems like a cheap shot. (Incidentally, the author's chronicling of the McCarthy saga is one of the highlights of the book.)
On p 129, "The Eisenhower administration...had come to an end on a sad, even something of an Aristotelian, note." Would someone who is accredited in Aristotle exegesis please shed some light on the author's possible meaning here? Perhaps he is thinking rather of Aeschylus or Euripides?
Withal, the book can be said to serve the purpose of provoking one to further, deeper study of Eisenhower, his administration, and the broader context the post-WWII era and the Cold War. But it should not by any means be taken as the last word on the subject. Unfortunately, one fears that by virtue of its concision, as well as - rather than in spite of - its high proportion of judgemental moralising to straight impartial fact, this is exactly the sort of book to be given impressionable students little inclined to think past what they are told.
on May 16, 2005
In his great biography of Dwight Eisenhower, Stephen Ambrose states that how Eisenhower's presidency is evaluated says more about the person doing the evaluation than it does about Eisenhower. Tom Wicker looks at Eisenhower's presidency through jaundiced eyes. He concludes this short biography by stating that Eisenhower was a great man but, not a great president. What is not clear is what kind of president Eisenhower was. If not great, was he, sort of like Truman, near great? Was he middling perhaps, or was he a poor president? Although Wicker does not provide that information, it is clear that he, at best, thinks Eisenhower's presidency was middling.
No matter what the event, Wicker takes a critical view of Eisenhower's action. He quotes Ambrose, for example, as follows: "Eisenhower's admiring biographer Stephen Ambrose reluctantly concluded that the president's failure to lead in this instance [support for the Brown v. Board of Education decision] was 'almost criminal.'" First of all, as admiring as Ambrose may have been, his biography was scrupulously fair and often critical. Wicker's characterization of Ambrose's conclusion as reluctant is an attempt to bolster Wicker's harsh criticism of Eisenhower. However, Wicker, unlike Ambrose, fails to give Eisenhower credit for the first Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction.
If Wicker had been fair, he would have noted that the Civil Rights legislation was sponsored by Eisenhower and that Eisenhower was deeply troubled that citizens (black Americans) were being denied the right to vote. Eisenhower strongly wanted a powerful voting rights law and civil rights legislation did, in fact, pass. It was watered down but certainly, not due to anything the administration did. Rather it was congress, including some very liberal Democrats, who watered it down because the civil rights bill provided for penalties against voting rights violators without affording these violators a jury trial. Yes, many liberals watered that provision down. However, Wicker looks upon this as a failing of the president. In fact, his strong support for a voting rights bill was leadership and ultimately, under the Johnson administration, this provision was stregnthened. It was Eisenhower who put the issue on the table so that it ultimately led to the stronger legislation a few years later.
Wicker excoriates Eisenhower for an incident in the 1952 campaign in which he deleted a defense of general George Marshall. Eisenhower was appearing in McCarthy's home state of Wisconsin and Eisenhower's aids told him that defending Marshall, who had been attacked by McCarthy, would be an insult to McCarthy. Eisenhower would have been the first to admit that, in retrospect, he was not proud of what he had done. However, what Wicker fails to report is that earlier, in a venue other than Wisconsin, Eisenhower strongly defended General Marshall.
In foreign affairs, Wicker blows what he perceives to be failures way out of proportion. He seems to think that Eisenhower's exercise of covert activity in Iran and Guatemala was of biblically disastorous proportions. Meanwhile, he gives Eisenhower credit for keeping us out of war but, the very existence of a crisis in which war was averted, seems to reflect badly on Eisenhower. In fact, we were perilously close to nuclear war on several occasions. It is quite possible that nobody other than Eisenhower could have resisted the pressures to launch a first strike. That did not happen due to Eisnhower's great leadership. Getting us through the perilous 50s the way he did should make Eisenhower at least one of the near great presidents.
Finally, in viewing the failure to reach arms control with the Soviets, Wicker states that Eisenhower attempted to reach an agreement due to Stevenson's pushing the issue in the 1956 presidential campaign. In fact, early on, Eisenhower sought innovative ways to limit arms including, a proposed agreement to have unlimited surveillance of the US by the Soviet Union and of the Soviet Union by the US. Each country would provide airfields for survellance flights to the other. Eisenhower resisted calls from Democrats and Republicans alike for more armaments. In double talk, Stevenson was urging production of more missles due to an alleged "missle gap" at the same time he was calling for arms control. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was resisiting the pressure to engage in an arms race. So, by reading Wicker, you would not know that Eisenhower was an innovative leader on this issue and that Stevenson was speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
The presidential biographies, in this series, are relatively short. Wicker's is a good 15 pages shorter than several others in the series. Wicker would have done well to add 10 or 15 pages to go into a little depth about Eisnhower's heroic leadership as Supreme commander of the Allied forces in WWII. In fact, if he had done so, he could have even raised the rumored sexual affair with Kay Summersby. Of course if he had done so, unlike biographers Ambrose and Geoffrey Perret who both concluded that the two did not have sex, Wicker's jaundiced view would have led to the opoposite conclusion.
I believe that, although this biography does a good job in reporting the facts of Eisenhower's presidency, Wicker's harsh analysis is unfair and, ultimately flawed.