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Harry S. Truman: The American Presidents Series: The 33rd President, 1945-1953 Hardcover – September 2, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Noted presidential biographer Dallek (An Unfinished Life) turns his skilled pen to the man from Independence. In brisk prose and with the confidence of his vast knowledge of the era, Dallek interprets the life of the simple man who, having unexpectedly and with little experience assumed the presidency when FDR died, surprised everyone by so skillfully shouldering huge burdens. In his day, that meant ending the war with Japan (by authorizing the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki), ordering American troops to repel the invasion of Korea, firing Douglas MacArthur and facing down the Soviets. It also meant protecting the New Deal from erosion, dealing with striking labor and taking unprecedented steps to desegregate the government and armed forces. Just listing these achievements makes clear why Dallek, like other historians, places Truman high on the list of American presidents. Like so many other biographies in the splendid American Presidents series, Dallek's little book is now the best starting point for knowledge of Truman's life and for an astute assessment of his career. (Sept. 2)
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From Booklist

The first paragraph of Dallek’s yeomanly contribution to the American Presidents series pontificates that, with the Roosevelts and Wilson, Truman is one of the “great or near-great” twentieth-century presidents. What follows suggests that he was the best of those four, anyway. FDR had told him nothing, even of the atomic bomb that he would have to decide whether to use. He got no immediate credit for his administration’s real achievements, such as the Marshall Plan. His party fractured beneath him when he headed the ticket in 1948. He got blamed for FDR’s failings, such as employing the Communists Joe McCarthy demagogued about, and for an early career beholden to crooked Kansas City Democrat Tom Pendergast. That he very quickly adapted to wartime leadership, prevailed in 1948 by sheer energy and common-man appeal, seized initiative against security risks before Congress did, and was the clean cog in Pendergast’s machine went largely unappreciated almost until his death. Dallek leaves little doubt that you must disagree with Truman philosophically to consider him less than a damn good president. --Ray Olson

Product Details

  • Series: The American Presidents
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1st Printing edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805069380
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805069389
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Dallek is the author of Nixon and Kissinger, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963, among other books. His writing has appeared in the The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Vanity Fair. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Society of American Historians, for which he served as president in 2004-2005. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Harry S. Truman's life story in a short, accessible biography. That's the premise of The American Presidents Series, and this is one of the most recent entrants in the stable. The late Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. was the series editor. In his introduction to each book in this series, he says (Page xvi): "The men in the White House express the ideals and values, the frailties and the flaws, of the voters who send them there. It is altogether natural that we should want to know more about the virtues and the vices of the fellows we have elected to govern us. As we know more about them, we will know more about themselves."

The book begins by noting that, traditionally, the 20th century presidents deemed to be great or near great include: Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. The "Preludes" section notes that (Page 1): "On the face of things, Truman's high standing is surprising. . . . Truman was notable for his ordinariness."

The book begins with his family background, his early years, his service in World War I, his early (failed) effort at a haberdashery business, and his decision to move into public life. The book well describes his moral dilemmas at one point: the corrupt Pendergast organization was willing to sponsor him for elective office. What would he do? Eschew the support of the machine? Or use its support and still try to stay clean? He did the latter and his political career began. By the way, to give a sense of The American Presidents' series, we come to see how and why FDR selected Truman as his Vice-Presidential partner by page 15!

Truman's time in the White House. . . . We see him reflecting on whether or not to use the atomic weaponry against Japan.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Robert Dallek's HARRY S. TRUMAN is an illuminating and exhilarating read both for those deeply steeped in the Truman story and for those to whom Truman is a little-known figure. Dallek employs politics as the underlying theme that traces both Truman's career and the volatility of an American public that, not infrequently, can swerve far off the course of common sense and of appreciation for the real-world complexities of both domestic change and international vital interests. Dallek's succinct essay provides me valuable insights into the current Tea Party aberration.

Biographer Dallek, who has exhibited keen insights into the personalities and politics of FDR, Nixon, JFK, and LBJ, and Reagan, brings similar acumen to assessing Truman-- the man, the politician, and the president. As a teenager, I stayed up late watching the 1948 election in which Truman confounded the professional pollsters. I am familiar with many of the two dozen books upon which Dallek depends for many of his core facts and anecdotes, including McCullough's TRUMAN, Hamby's MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A LIFE OF HARRY S. TRUMAN, George H. Gallup's THE GALLUP POLL, 1935-1971, and Merle Miller's PLAIN SPEAKING: AN ORAL BIOGRAPHY OF HARRY S. TRUMAN.

I have taught Truman in a college course for nearly twenty years. I am astonished by how accurately Dallek, in 153 pages, synthesizes many complex events. I feel humbled at how often Dallek provides a succinct factual and political insight that had escaped me in my 60+ years of learning about Truman. Most important, Dallek provides a comprehensive, credible assessment of a man and president who, too frequently, has been misunderstood and, years ago, trivialized.
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Format: Hardcover
With the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Vice-President Harry Truman (1884 -- 1972) became the 33d president of the United States. Truman served through what would have been virtually the entirety of Roosevelt's fourth term and then won an upset victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948 to serve a term on his own. There was little in Truman's background that seemed to prepare him for this responsibility. The reasons for the ailing Roosevelt's selection of Truman remain obscure, as the two men were not on good terms. Truman faced many challenges while in office and, with the passage of time, appears to have met many of them. Robert Dallek offers an excellent overview and assessment of Truman's presidency in this short biography "Harry S. Truman"(2008) written as part of the American Presidents Series edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Willentz. Dallek has written extensively on the modern presidency, with books about Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Kissinger, among others.

Many of the books in this series devote substantial space the the pre-presidential life and career of their subjects. Dallek covers Truman's formative years in a dense, quick single chapter. Raised in rural Missouri, Truman entered politics through the notorious Pendergast machine and ultimately was elected and relected to the Senate before Roosevelt chose him for the vice-presidency. The brisk treatment of Truman's early life allows Dallek to focus the reader's attention where it belongs: on Truman's eventful and difficult presidency.

Besides using the extensive public record, Dallek draws upon Truman's letters, diary entries, off-the record comments, drafts and other documents of a private character to round out a portrayal of a complex individual and era.
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