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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2001
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. Over the course of the book Truman bluntly critiques Eisenhower, Henry Wallace, Douglas MacArthur, and even John F. Kennedy (whom Truman dryly calls "the boy" and matter-of-factly claims had his 1960 nomination and election victory "bought" for him by his sinister father, Joseph Kennedy. It's safe to say that Truman was no admirer of the Kennedys, particularly JFK's father - when the Kennedys accused him of opposing JFK's nomination because he was a Roman Catholic, Truman quipped "I'm not against the Pope, I'm against the Pop!"). After reading this book, it's hard not to admire Truman and find him to be a refreshing change from the modern politician who calculates every word and lies constantly.

Unfortunately, it turns out that at least some of Truman's statements were fake - they were nothing more than figments of Merle Miller's imagination. In 1995 Dr. Robert Ferrell, an historian, was writing a biography of Truman. At the Truman Library he examined Miller's transcripts and tapes of his interviews with Truman, and discovered (much to his surprise) that many of Truman's statements in "Plain Speaking" were nowhere to be found in the transcripts or tapes. Dr. Ferrell did discover that in 1963, when Miller wanted to write a magazine article about his interviews with Truman, the former President wrote a letter to Miller in which he bluntly criticized Miller's "misstatements" in quoting him, and threatened a lawsuit if Miller had the article published (he didn't). In fact, Miller waited until nearly two years after Truman's death in 1972 to publish "Plain Speaking" - thus ensuring that Truman wasn't around to file a lawsuit or point out Miller's "misstatements." The simple fact that Miller ignored Truman's complaints and went ahead with this book's publication - and then presented himself as one of Truman's greatest admirers - leads me to give "Plain Speaking" no more than three stars. I suspect that Truman himself would be appalled at how Miller successfully portrayed this book as an accurate portrait of what he said in the interviews. "Plain Speaking" is a great read, but as accurate history it is sadly lacking, and the reader should always keep this in mind.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2000
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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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 29, 2000
Having just read another biography of Truman, I was reminded of Plain Speaking and of the newspaper articles a year or two ago which discredited this book. An historian actually checked out some of the most colorful quotations attributed to Truman by Miller and found Miller had either altered the real Truman statements or dressed them up to make them more colorful. The historian listened to Miller's own tapes - which are, as I recall, at the Truman Presidential library - and was astonished at what he found. He had no agenda to discredit Miller; he had initally simply wanted to hear Truman's voice making the statements and to also gather fuller context. So, while most of what Miller recorded is accurate, the intellectual dishonesty of manufacturing quotes is unforgiveable.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2005
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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2005
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 21, 1999
I admit that prior to this reading this informative and entertaining book, I was fairly ignorant about much of Truman's presidency and the events of his day. Truman's viewpoint is a unique and refreshing way to view him as a man and as the great president he was. Merle Miller, unlike so many other biographers, does not interject too much of himself. This is the unvarnished and best version of Truman who is, perhaps, the last human being to be president.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2001
I'm not a Harry Truman fan but PLAIN SPEAKING:AN ORAL BIOGRAPHY OF HARRY TRUMAN is sensational!!! President Harry Truman was a bit of a hothead--it wasn't necessary for him to drop atomic bombs on Japan--and Truman never got over the public's love of Dwight Eisenhower, but even so this "oral biography" of Harry Truman is sensational!
I first read PLAIN SPEAKING while in college taking an English class over years ago, and it's still a book I think about often. Why? Well, like Theodore Roosevelt before him, Harry Truman was dead square, a President who you didn't have to guess where he stood--he'd let you know!
Merle Miller is pretty interesting himself, and his insight as a midwesterner--"I moved away from Iowa to get away from people like him (Truman)" is funny and fascinating. Miller does a super job with details like describing Truman's childhood, and even discusses Truman's ideas about morality like "the things that ruin a man." And Miller doesn't shy away from asking Harry Truman about The Bomb, and even suggests at the end of one chapter that while Truman may not have done any major second guessing about The Bomb, he "had obviously given the matter a lot of thought."
So what made Harry Truman special? CHARACTER!!! Merle Miller brings that out loud and clear! Truman wasn't fancy, but he got the job done, and without a lot of confusion about whether he was involved in covert operations overseas, bugging the White House, or soliciting sex from his female employees! (In fact, Miller suggests that Truman's knowledge of women was limited to his sisters, his wife, and his mother!)
As you read PLAIN SPEAKING, Merle Miller gradually becomes a Harry Truman fan, and so will you!
Chari Krishnan RESEARCHKING Tango2200@Hotmail.Com
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2012
I read "Plain Speaking" when I was a teenager, soon after it was published. (Yeah, I was a history nerd.) I reread it, and it holds up wonderfully, especially in this age of political bitterness and cowardice.

Harry Truman is fairly well revered today, but the book brings to light how much he was belittled and despised during his years in office. His opponents were vicious --- calling him a stupid political hack, and alleging that many of his advisors were communists or communist appeasers. Truman left office without any acclaim, and a man he despised (Eisenhower) replaced him for 8 relatively uneventful years. As a result, it took things like Miller's book to bring Truman back into a positive light and even to make him into a bit of a folk hero for his unadorned style and decisiveness.

But Truman presideded over genuinely tough times: end of World War II, start of the Cold War and Korean War. Creation of the United Nations and Marshall Plan and recognition of Israel. He was fought every step of the way by domestic critics, except for WWII. That's a lot of international stuff to juggle, without even considering domestic issues like civil rights.

According to "Plain Speaking," Truman basically didn't care about his critics. He reveals that he considered the facts, weighed them against his knowledge of history and belief that history repeats itself, and then made a decision. And then he had a drink and went to bed. The simplicity with which he claims to have considered complicated issues is fascinating and charming ... and if it's even halfway true, it's astonishing. Because the thing about Truman --- in contrast to George "The Decider" Bush --- is that Truman actually bothered to learn his subject before he made a decision. And he considered the human consequences, as well as the ideological. As a result, many of his decisions stood the test of time.

There a few cautions or criticisms to make. First, if you don't know the history of the 1940s-1960s, then the references in the book won't make sense. That's your fault, not Truman's nor interviewer/editor Merle Miller's. There's also certain amount of patrician condescension by Miller that I find uncomfortable. Yet, it does reflect the WASP-dominated world that operated during that time; only someone like Miller would rise high enough in prominence to get to do the project (which, ironically, makes the ascension of Truman even that much more remarkable). Finally, because the book is notes from a series of interviews, it is disjointed at times and repetitive at others. It's more like a series of anecdotes and character observations (often eviscerations) than a coordinated story.

What will I retain from the book? First, his acerbic comments about Eisenhower, the Kennedy's, Nixon, McCarthy, and many others --- comments he wasn't afraid to make even while they were alive. Second, the importance of reading classic history (and a reading list for the future). Third, the gulf between how Truman handled his presidency and post-presidency, and how things are done today. Only perhaps Jimmy Carter led such an exemplary post-presidential life.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 1999
I found this book to be not only a wealth of information on Harry Truman the man, but also about twentieth century America. I think I enjoyed the book first of all because Truman reminds me so much of my grandfather. There were some things that I did not like however such as the fact that Merle Miller acts as more of a "yes man" than actually forming his own opinions. What I mean is he doesn't openly question any of Truman's decisions or thoughts. He just agrees with what Truman states and uses that answer to form his next question. However, the questions Miller poses are quite interesting and often complex. He ranges his questions from Truman's childhood to the assassination attempt on his life. I intend on teaching history, and I consider this book invaluable. I suggest it to anyone with an interest in history or just willing to increase their education because as Harry Truman says, "When you get an education, that is something nobody can take from you- money is only temporary- but what you have in your head, if you have the right kind of head, stays with you."
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2000
Harry Truman late in life telling it like it was. Here is Harry Truman speaking his mind and speaking the truth about politics and history. Through a series of interviews conducting by Miller, we see the true and great Harry S. Truman, the last regular person to be President. I especially enjoyed Truman's views on the Chinese Nationalists (Chiang Kai-shek) and on MacArthur and Eisenhower. A Great book. If Harry Truman is not your favorite President after reading this book, you might be from another planet. A Great read!
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