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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not really a biography but a good introduction
Tom Wicker spent thirty years writing on politics for the New York Times. Having worked as a young reporter in the 1950s, he combines memories of actual events with secondary sources to produce a short, lively monograph on Eisenhower's presidency.
Older readers can remember the media Ike: the winning smile, the bumbling answers at press conferences, the incessant...
Published on April 4, 2003 by Michael Oppenheim

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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Workmanlike
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...
Published on September 24, 2003


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Workmanlike, September 24, 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.)
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Look at a National Hero, June 19, 2006
By 
Craig M. Farnham (Waterbury, CT USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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."
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28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Another biographer who detests his subject., December 4, 2002
By 
"mr_arch_stanton" (Santa Fe, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Weak Entry In An Otherwise Strong Series, December 11, 2002
By 
J. Keenley (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not really a biography but a good introduction, April 4, 2003
By 
Michael Oppenheim (Los Angeles, CA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
Tom Wicker spent thirty years writing on politics for the New York Times. Having worked as a young reporter in the 1950s, he combines memories of actual events with secondary sources to produce a short, lively monograph on Eisenhower's presidency.
Older readers can remember the media Ike: the winning smile, the bumbling answers at press conferences, the incessant golf. The electorate loved him, but contemporary observers were not impressed. They looked on him as a career soldier who despised politics, leaving handling of foreign policy to the slightly frightening John Foster Dulles and domestic policy to no one at all.
Wicker admits that this was once his view but no longer. However, he adds that Eisenhower's growing reputation owes nothing to domestic affairs. Perhaps his major success in this area was the Interstate Highway Bill of 1955, which is still financing our interstate roads. Trivia buffs note: this was the last major Republican program that required new taxes.
Wicker joins two generations of historians in condemning Eisenhower's refusal to speak out against McCarthy or in favor of civil rights. All agree this was politically astute but morally deplorable.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision on segregation came as an unpleasant shock to Eisenhower, but he was in good company. Most northern officials were lukewarm (an admirable exception was attorney general, Herbert Brownell). Holding racial views similar to Lincoln's, Eisenhower disapproved of mistreating Negroes but believed their capacities did not measure up to those of the white race. Wicker's discussion spends more time on Chief Justice Warren than the president, but it's an eye-opener. Legend gives Warren credit for the decision, but this is wrong. He didn't join the court until the case was nearing its end. On his arrival, it was already 5-4 in favor of desegregation. His accomplishment was convincing opponents to switch their votes. Such a controversial decision required unanimity, Warren pointed out. A split Court would encourage southern resistance, bringing disorder to the country and casting doubt on the Court's legitimacy. Good patriots all, they switched, including the hidebound southern racist, Stanley Reed. Does anyone believe this could happen today?
Among America's long line of political scoundrels, Joseph McCarthy stands out for sheer vulgarity. Many supporters in the Senate including Richard Nixon thought he was slightly creepy. That his wild accusations of rampant communist subversion ruined many careers without turning up any new spies was public knowledge. The New York Times and Washington Post pointed this out. Conservative Time Magazine heaped ridicule on him.
But no elected official dared cross McCarthy. Contemptuous in private, Eisenhower took care never to make his feelings public although newspapers regularly found hints between the lines. The Senate censure in 1954 happened only because of McCarthy's increasingly insulting behavior and a modest decline of anticommunist hysteria. It was a slap on the wrist, and McCarthy remained in charge of his committee, so no one can explain why he suddenly fell silent. Wicker has no explanation, and he concludes with the usual regret that Eisenhower failed to take a courageous moral position.
Historians always attack politicians for refusing to take courageous moral positions, forgetting that doing so is invariably disastrous. Perhaps the greatest example is Lincoln's emancipation proclamation in September 1862. Although a feeble antislavery gesture, it was unpopular in the north. Democrats happily pointed out that Lincoln had converted a war for the union into a war for the Negro, and they crushed Republicans in the election two months later.
Foreign policy is almost entirely responsible for Eisenhower's improving reputation. Even those of us who remember the 1950s forget how close World War III seemed. Many national leaders and several of the Joint Chiefs wanted to get on with it as soon as possible. America's foreign policy seemed in the hands of elderly secretary of state John Foster Dulles, a pugnacious, evangelical who had been lecturing foreigners on American virtues since the Wilson administration. He made almost everyone nervous with enthusiastic talk of liberating eastern Europe, regaining China, and using atomic weapons if provoked excessively. It turns out Dulles was firmly under Eisenhower's thumb, and this rhetoric mellowed as years passed. The president himself was far more peaceable than anyone thought at the time. He gets enough credit for ending the Korean war but too little for refusing to strike back at China's threats to Formosa (his military advisors were raring to go). When he aborted the English-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt in 1956, he was not reading opinion polls. Americans generally approved the invasion.
Most impressive of all, he kept the military firmly under his thumb. Despite the usual 1952 campaign rhetoric about defeating communism, Eisenhower held the defense budget level when he wasn't reducing it. His finest hour (although no one thought so at the time) came after Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. His announcement that orbiting a satellite was not a big deal produced universal dismay. Editorials denounced his short-sightedness; cartoons pictured him with his head in the sand. His poll ratings dropped to their lowest. Despite additional Russian space spectaculars, he did not change his mind, quashing all efforts to launch crash military programs. John F. Kennedy spent much of the 1960 campaign denouncing the administration for underestimating the communist threat, cruelly starving the armed forces, allowing the Russians to achieve military superiority. JFK was a far more aggressive cold warrior than his predecessor.
Like all volumes in the excellent American Presidents series, Wicker's is a quick read: 140 pages. Unlike the others, it's not really a biography. Eisenhower's greatest accomplishment was his meteoric rise to command in WWII after twenty years of obscurity. Winning the presidency was easy by comparison; after all he was the most popular man in the country. Wicker admits this, but he skips over the early life. As an account of his presidency, it breaks no ground but the author's anecdotes and outspoken opinions make it a lively addition to the definitive biographies.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Weak Entry In An Otherwise Strong Series, December 11, 2002
By 
J. Keenley (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Only Lip Service, November 16, 2013
This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars useful but incomplete, January 25, 2009
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars President Eisenhower, April 22, 2008
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.

Robin Friedman
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More a reflection on the author than on the subject, May 16, 2005
By 
David E. Levine (Peekskill , NY USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dwight D. Eisenhower (Hardcover)
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.
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