A Letter from Author Jim Newton
When I set out to write Eisenhower: The White House Years, Dwight D. Eisenhower had to win me over. That’s because my initial view of him was through the eyes of my previous subject, the late Chief Justice Earl Warren. Although Ike appointed Warren, it seemed to the chief justice, as it did to many Americans, that Ike was a benign but disengaged leader, unmoved by the call for civil rights, content to let the nation float on a tide of peaceful prosperity.
So even though my editor, the great Phyllis Grann, was persuaded that Ike would stand up to hard scrutiny, I had my doubts. It was with that ambivalence that, in early 2007, I arrived in Abilene, Kansas, home of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, unsure where immersion in Eisenhower’s presidential legacy would lead.
There, in Ike’s hometown, surrounded by his voluminous papers, I came around. For what those papers capture is a blend of military acumen, diplomatic subtlety and presidential leadership rivaled in American history only by George Washington.
John Eisenhower, Ike’s perceptive son, crisply described his father to me one morning in 2010. “My dad,” he said, “was not a social reformer. He was a commander-in-chief.” Indeed, he was. Shrewd and patient, moderate and confident, Ike guided America through some of the most treacherous moments of the Cold War. He was urged to take advantage of America’s military advantage in those early years – to finish the Korean War with nuclear weapons, to repel Chinese aggression against Taiwan, to repulse the Soviets in Berlin, to rescue the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Eisenhower was not complacent--he authorized the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala and welcomed the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg--but nor was he reckless or unhinged.
Eisenhower was a terrific poker player, and he played his cards carefully, mindful of the stakes: After ending the Korean War early in his presidency, Eisenhower jousted with the Soviets and Chinese in conflicts across the globe. During those many confrontations across more than seven years, just one American died in combat. That respite brought profound rewards. Eisenhower believed that time favored America in the Cold War, that the West would prevail by virtue of its values. He adamantly rejected Joe McCarthy’s hysterical assault on American civil liberties and helped bring an end to McCarthyism (“McCarthywasm,” as Ike joked).
Ike’s leadership is thoroughly vindicated by time. His willingness to appoint and defer to capable subordinates allowed his civil rights record (highlighted by the appointments of Warren and Justice William Brennan, passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act and the intervention in Little Rock) to exceed his instincts; his determination to build created the highway system and the St. Lawrence Seaway; his warning of the “military industrial complex” only grows more meaningful with experience. And his fixed pursuit of an unyielding and yet restrained response to communism not only lit the way for victory in the Cold War but also suggests a course for today’s leaders confronted with the challenges of terrorism.
It is a legacy of principled moderation and commitment to progress--one worthy of appreciation at a time when those virtues are in perilously short supply.
Praise for Jim Newton's Eisenhower: The White House Years
"Newton's book is thorough and reasonable....What makes it valuable now is the timing: We need this book and its insights to judge the vicious and counterproductive politics of these days. This is a book worth reading."
—Richard Reeve, LA Times
"An essential narrative....[Newton's] objective is to tell the story, and he does so well, inviting us to form our own opinions and giving us a sense of an era that seems both quaint and comfortable in our own age of harsh polarization."
—The Wall Street Journal
"Drawing on declassified documents, Newton's narrative, especially of the many international crises, is clear, brisk, and insightful, a timely study of a master of consensus politics with lessons for today's polarized Washington."
"[Newton's] well-researched account shows that Eisenhower was an engaged, decisive leader guided by some bedrock moral and political beliefs . . . A well-done presentation that helps correct enduring perceptions about an effective but misunderstood presidency."
"A truly great book, spirited, balanced, and not just the story of President Eisenhower but of an era."
"Jim Newton brings President Eisenhower to life, and we walk with him page by page as he’s transformed from epic General to two-term President. Newton navigates a fascinating journey from military leader to novice politician to one of the most beloved Presidents in our history."
—John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator
"Jim Newton does a masterful job illustrating the forces that confronted Dwight Eisenhower during his years in the White House, from nuclear politics to race relations to the federal debt and deficit. He paints a vivid portrait of a president struggling to find middle ground—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—but always with the good of the country in mind. While many Americans are intimately familiar with Eisenhower the general, less is known about Eisenhower the president. Newton artfully fills that void, examining the evolution of our 34th president from the invasion of Normandy to the political warfare of Washington."
—Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator
"Newton's contribution is as cogent an inventory of Eisenhower's White House years as I've ever read. He blends masterful writing with historic detail and provides the value-added of Ike as the man and the leader. This is a book for all who are interested in a better understanding of how America and the World were shaped post–WWII and for those who aspire to lead: Read Newton's book first."
—Chuck Hagel, Distinguished Professor, Georgetown University; U.S. Senator (1997–2009)
"Jim Newton has given us an entirely fresh look at Dwight Eisenhower - and his riveting book couldn't be more timely or useful today."
—Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine
"Ike's wisdom, born of experience and intellect, is on display in this important book, which heightens appreciation for his leadership. Newton reveals, for instance, that after the Korean War, only one American soldier was killed in combat during Eisenhower's presidency. This volume contributes to our understanding of an outstanding human being."
—George P. Shultz, 60th U.S. Secretary of State
“Dwight Eisenhower’s eight years as the 34th president of the United States marked a shining moment in American history. In short, it was a wonderful period of prosperity, peace and freedom. But during his presidency and for years afterwards, many believed that Ike was a decent but do-nothing president who left the hard work to others. In his book, Eisenhower: The White House Years, Jim Newton does a superb job of dispelling that false myth and describing Eisenhower as a dedicated chief executive who excelled at running the country.”
—James A. Baker, III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State
"Jim Newton's book is a fresh and welcome reminder that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not only a superb general, but a cunning, shrewd and surprisingly progressive politician, and one of our most important presidents. A very welcome book!"
—Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
"As we enter another critical political season, there is little we can benefit from more than a knowledge of our 34th President, Dwight Eisenhower, his values and the giant decisions of his Presidency that those values motivated. Jim Newton's Eisenhower, The White House Years, simply and eloquently, delivers the man, his Presidency and, if America is paying attention, the life lessons that are his legacy."
“Jim Newton has written a captivating book that reinforces the rising tide of positive studies of the Eisenhower presidency. Gracefully written and rigorously researched, The White House Years introduces the reader to ‘a great man at the height of his power,’ a master at ‘waging peace,’ more effectively than any other post-war president.”
—David A. Nichols, author of Eisenhower 1956 and A Matter of Justice
“Jim Newton’s brilliant reassessment of Eisenhower’s presidency is long overdue, and his book makes it clear that Ike was indeed a great president. Ike’s insistence on always doing the right thing for the country despite party pressure and personal predilection serves as a valuable model for politicians in all three branches of government. Jim Newton's book should be required reading on Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill.”
—William S. Sessions