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Excellent Narrative, Though Nothing New Here as Scholarship
on September 22, 2012
As a historian who has done research on Eisenhower, and as an admirer of the General/President, I have been waiting with great anticipation for Evan Thomas' book. I have had my copy since Tuesday, and have been reading it every spare moment I can get since I acquired it.
I agree with Thomas' overall thesis of the book, which is that Eisenhower was long overlooked as a President. Historians like Arthur Schlesinger and others from his generation wrote off Ike as the bubble-head who played golf for eight years as President. Therefore, any book that shows the falsehood of that assessment and presents a more accurate picture of Eisenhower's presidency is welcome.
In terms of Thomas' scholarship on Eisenhower and his thesis on Ike's presidency, the author does not really present anything new in his narrative. The assessment of Eisenhower as a cunning and insightful President who staved off war with the communist block was one that was already successfully pioneered by both Stephen Ambrose and Fred Greenstein back in the 1980's. The work of those two authors (Ambrose's Eisenhower-the President and Greenstein's Hidden Hand Presidency) started the modern age of scholarship on Eisenhower. That work has continued to produce work on Eisenhower's presidency. In recent years, new work from Jean Edward Smith and Jim Newton have also continued to support Ike's importance as a president. Therefore, if you are already someone who is well read on Eisenhower, you are not going to find much that is new on his presidency with Thomas' work.
That being said, this fact should not detract too much from Thomas' work on its own merit. Thomas' narrative is well composed, well researched, and an example of great historical storytelling at its finest. Those readers who are already familiar with the history of Eisenhower's presidency will still enjoy this book as a reaffirmation of Ike's importance to American history as a president. For those who are not familiar with Eisenhower's presidency, and thus not familiar with earlier scholarship on Ike, will learn much from Thomas' book.
I thoroughly recommend this book for both Ike aficionados and the uninitiated to Eisenhower's history. Thomas' book confirms the place of Eisenhower as one of our most important presidents. The author effectively presents the story of a president who now ranks in the top tier of U.S. Presidents for both his skills and his accomplishments in that office.