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Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman Hardcover – April, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers; First Edition Thus edition (April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579124372
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579124373
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,206 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Merle Miller was born on May 17, 1919 in Montour, Iowa, and grew up in Marshalltown, Iowa. He attended the University of Iowa and the London School of Economics. He joined the US. Army Air Corps during World War II, where he worked as an editor of Yank. His best-known books are his biographies of three presidents: Plain Speaking: An Oral History of Harry Truman, Lyndon: An Oral Biography, and Ike the Soldier: As They Knew Him. His novels include That Winter, The Sure Thing, Reunion, A Secret Understanding, A Gay and Melancholy Sound, What Happened, Island 49, and A Day in Late September. He also wrote We Dropped the A-Bomb, The Judges and the Judged, Only You, Dick Daring!, about his experiences writing a television pilot for CBS starring Barbara Stanwyck and Jackie Cooper, and On Being Different, an expansion of his 1971 article for the The New York Times Magazine entitled "What It Means to Be a Homosexual." He died in 1986. In 2012 two of Miller's book were reissued: A Gay and Melancholy Sound and On Being Different. Check out more information on

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 1, 2001
Format: Library Binding
When I first read "Plain Speaking" over 25 years ago, I immediately thought that it was one of the best and most entertaining political books I'd ever read. And if I had to rate "Plain Speaking" on the sheer delight you get from reading it, then I'd easily give it six stars instead of five. Unfortunately, research by several noted historians in 1995 at the Truman Library has revealed that at least some of Truman's statements in "Plain Speaking" were never spoken by Mr. Truman, but were entirely the products of Merle Miller's imagination. As a result, while "Plain Speaking" is still a wonderful read if you've got a few free hours, it is no longer taken as serious history by biographers and historians. "Plain Speaking" isn't a traditional, full-length biography of Truman, instead it is a brief "oral biography" of the man, presumably spoken in Truman's own words.

Merle Miller, a veteran journalist, visited the ex-President in 1962 and taped a series of interviews with him. His hope was that he could sell these interviews to a TV network. But when no network bought the rights, in 1974 Miller simply printed the interview transcripts and turned them into this bestselling book. Miller clearly admired Truman, and as a result his questions are often partisan and/or favorable - Miller's questions are of the softball variety. For example, in one question Miller asks Truman "Are they {the Republicans} just stupid?", and Truman gives a typically partisan response. Even so, many of Truman's replies to Miller's questions are delightfully blunt and laugh-out-loud funny: "I didn't fire General MacArthur because he was a dumb son-of-a-*****, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals...", etc.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Melvin Hunt on June 1, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This was a very good book. This book outlines how a man of very humble beginnings became the President of the United States. One of the more interesting parts was Truman's rise from a machine politician to a national figure. Also,I found amazing some of the historical roads that Truman had a role in traveling. His shaping of the world after World Wat II through the Marshall Plan was very readable. His role with Israel was also very noteable. His firing of General Mcarthur was laid out in great detail. I also liked reading his feelings and opinions about various political figures that we have come to know. Before this book I didn't have an opinion about Truman. After I read this book I became mightily impressed with Harry Truman. An excellent book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I can't believe no one else has reviewed this book! I was exposed to it as a boy, read it first as a teenager, and have found myself re-reading it every few years since. It's not perfect -- what book is? -- but I think it's excellent.

Harry Truman was the sort of man that was rare in his own day, and perhaps rarer these days -- a man of integrity and discipline, a man uninterested in lying about anything for any reason, a man determined to do what was right even if not a single person on Earth agreed with him. For various reasons, though, many of the biographies of him fall short.

Merle Miller, by his own account, was no particular fan of Truman when he first met him. But he conducted many hours of taped interviews, in the interests of producing a never-aired television show about the Truman years, and seems to have gradually learned to appreciate the man.

The result is a book of interviews, mostly with Truman but also with friends, relatives, and associates (Dean Acheson among them), painting a bright and warm picture of a much-misunderstood President.

Miller acknowledges Truman's gaffes and faux pas when they arise, and does his best to put them in context. (He acknowledges Truman's casual racism by today's standards, typical of the day, for example -- but he also points out that it was Truman who took the bold step of integrating the U.S. armed forces. Truman even had the guts to do it in an election year!)

In addition to all else, I found this book an easy read, suitable for cuddling up with a blanket and a fire in the fireplace. Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By K.A.Goldberg on March 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This candid biography was drawn from never-aired TV interviews filmed in early 1962 when former U.S. President Harry Truman was 77 and retired nine years. Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) had character, courage, and strong views, as is evident on each page. Truman provides straight answers to questions about his childhood, military service, and days as County Administrator, Senator (which Truman liked best), and President (1945-1953). Truman easily discusses tough issues like dropping the bomb on Japan, the Marshall Plan, and Korea. He praises associates Omar Bradley, Dean Acheson, Herbert Hoover, and especially George Marshall. He also shows scorn for wealthy special interests, Douglas McArthur ("Mr. Brass Hat"), Dwight Eisenhower ("difficult"), Richard Nixon ("Shifty-eyed...Liar"), and sees President Kennedy as capable but too young. Truman lacked a college education, but we see how his prolific reading in history and literature proved invaluable. The author/interviewer speaks with some of Truman's friends and relatives, but no critics, and he seldom challenges the President's responses as a good interviewer occasionally must. As a result, this highly engaging book is a bit thin and one-sided.

Merle Miller (1919-1984) admitted that during the course of these interviews he went from Truman skeptic to fan. This is an engaging and revealing look at one of America's better President's.
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