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The Last Campaign: How Harry Truman Won the 1948 Election Paperback – April 10, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700773
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700774
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,570,358 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1948, Harry Truman was virtually a lame-duck president. He had no support in the polls, the right wing of his party was lurching toward Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond, the left wing toward Progressive candidate Henry Wallace, and his Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey, seemed destined to trounce them all. Yet Truman miraculously won the election, and his 1948 campaign promptly assumed the proportions of a legend. Now political scientist Karabell (What's College For?) seeks to debunk the legend. Truman's victory, Karabell believes, owed much to superior strategy and underhanded tactics. Truman's strategy--secure the farm and labor block and appeal to black voters--became a mainstay of Democratic candidates for years to come. His tactics, Karabell charges, featured negative campaigning and unrepentant demagoguery before live audiences. Karabell makes much of the fact that 1948 was the last election in which television did not play a significant role. Television, Karabell asserts, homogenizes candidates and pushes them toward the center, robbing the American electorate of political diversity among its leadership. That is why 1948 was, in his words, the "last campaign": it was the last time that "an entire spectrum of ideologies was represented in the presidential election." This is a difficult hypothesis to accept for anyone who remembers the Humphrey-Nixon-Wallace contest of 1968, or even Clinton-Bush-Perot in 1992. Karabell is on firmer ground when he sticks to reporting on the daily grind of the campaign trail, though he elaborates in more detail than most readers will need or want. Still, as an extended journalistic account of the election, the book is successful; as an analysis of television's impact on politics, it is superficial and unconvincing. 16 pages of photos. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Dewey defeats Truman! claims Karabell (Architects of Intervention) in this engaging narrative of the 1948 presidential election. It was the final contest in which voters could choose from four candidates representing quite distinct political ideologies and the final campaign before television "worked its destructive magic." Incumbent President Harry Truman and Tom Dewey, his Republican opponent, offered voters moderate choices, while Progressive Henry Wallace and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond were extreme alternatives. The author is strongest discussing the impact of the press, polls, and radio and describing the importance of the convention, which was then "a mix of high politics, low politics and entertainment." Truman was the last candidate to verbally savage his opponents, especially Dewey, who instead ran a civil but dull campaign--the kind future voters would come to expect. Dewey's campaign and not Truman's "Give-'em-Hell-Harry" strategy became the model for following elections. In this respect, the author concludes, Dewey did indeed defeat Truman. Along with Gary Donaldson's more analytical Truman Defeats Dewey (LJ 10/15/98), Karabell provides an intriguing overview of this watershed election. Recommended for all libraries.
-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twsp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Overall, this is a well-written history book that is very readable.
Brian D. Rubendall
Still, the main thrust of the book (how 1948 was the last year for so many things political), is infinitely fascinating and makes this a book impossible to put down.
Brooke276
Among the many errors, Strom Thurmond was first elected to the Senate in 1954, not 1952.
SWAMP FOX

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By David A. Bede on August 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book provides a lot of information about one of the 20th century's most fascinating elections, and it does so in a concise, accessible style. Trouble is, it never goes into much depth, and the conclusions Karabell draws about the aftermath of the election are essentially an echo of the standard Republican Party lines we've all been hearing about more recent campaigns. Karabell does try to be objective, and in places he does a good job of it. This is the first book I can recall reading that acknowledges Strom Thurmond's efforts to avoid letting his Dixiecrat campaign become too extreme, while never denying the racist he was and is. He also offers a somewhat balanced account of the question of Henry Wallace's degree of sympathy toward communists, although he can't completely resist the temptation to tag Wallace as an apologist for the pawns of Moscow, if not one himself. It would have been nice to see more focus on Wallace's stances on issues other than communism, though; there was much more to him than that. Karabell doesn't appear to have it out for Truman throughout the book; refreshingly, he acknowledges that the "liberal media" was anything but so in 1948 and that its unsparingly negative portrayal of Truman contributed to the element of surprise when he won in November. But Karabell's characterization of Truman's campaign tactics is straight out of the George W. Bush playbook: Truman's attacks on the Republican 80th Congress amounted to "class warfare," we are told, with no analysis at all of whether or not Republican policies of the day were in fact detrimental to the well being of the working class and middle class, and his "unfair" tactics led to the politically unfriendly atmosphere of his second term.Read more ›
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Brian D. Rubendall HALL OF FAME on May 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Karabell's "The Last Campaign" is a great book for political junkies and history buffs. The title refers to 1948 being the last presidential campaign waged before televison began to have a "shrinking effect" on campaigns. The book explodes some of the myths about the election and shows how Truman used "lowball" tactics against Dewey, who refused to respond. This was also the first campaign to be affected by the emerging Cold War, which helped torpedo the hopes of the Progressive candidate, Henry Wallace. It also saw the beginnings of the civil rights backlash in the South personified by candidate Strom Thurmond. Overall, this is a well-written history book that is very readable.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve Iaco on May 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have always been fascinated by the 1948 Presidential election and Karabell's account did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. This is an EXCELLENT narrative about a pivotal election in an era before television, the Cold War and political "reforms" combined to alter (some would say "dilute") the process permanently. Karabell's is a balanced chronicle. He points out the virtues and flaws in all the candidates. We learn that Truman gave them more than "hell" during the famed whistle stop campaign, and that Dewey's passivity and aloof demeanor probably caused his downfall. The impact of the Dixiecrat revolt and the Wallace insurgency are also captured in detail.
This book captures a bygone era when politics was truly riveting.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Phillips on August 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Looking at the 1948 election one always wonders how Harry Truman did it. Not only did the polls show him way behind, not only did the Republicans as usual have more money, but Truman's party was split three ways. Zachary Karabell not only makes Truman's victory make sense, but he does so in a very readable way.
First of all, the Wallace and Thrumond movements probably helped Truman much more than they hurt him. Wallace was so far left that Truman was able to move himself far enough to the left to take back most of Wallace's voters while still looking like a moderate to most voters in comparison to Wallace. Thurmond and his Dixiecrats actually suprised Truman and his staff. They had assumed Truman could push for civil rights and that the south would grumble and complain but in the end would have no choice but to support Truman. Still, the black votes Truman picked up ended up being far more important to Truman than the few votes Thurmond actually took from him. Black voters were still not a block that could be counted on for Democrats in 1948. In the long run however, those people in the south who voted for Thurmond in 1948 found that voting against the Democratic candidate was fairly easy and the "solid south" would in a few decades be solidly Republican.
Truman and his staff decided the polished Harry wasn't working so it was decided to let Truman be Truman. Being a Missouri farmer there was a lot of populism in Truman and it came out in 1948. People then and Karabell now accuse Truman of promoting class conflict. In 1948 and today that is always the charge against anyone who dares to attack the greedy few who run Wall Street and for the most part, the country.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brooke276 on June 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
More than a mere summary of Truman's upset victory, this book wisely includes detailed accounts of all the presidential campaigns; Republican Thomas Dewey, Progressive Henry Wallace, and Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond. Consequently, we are given new insight as to how Truman pulled off his magnificent victory. Still, the main thrust of the book (how 1948 was the last year for so many things political), is infinitely fascinating and makes this a book impossible to put down. Truman's style of tough talk and fierce rhetoric (which the author believes opened the door for Republican-led attacks in Truman's second term) captured the nation that year, but would soon give way to the bland and inoffensive platitudes of Dewey. Because 1948 was the last presidential election not to have significant television coverage, candidates could focus more on the issues at hand without be as concerned with image and polite pronouncements. The year 1948 also witnessed the last relevant convention, when the candidate was decided after more than one ballot. As the author states, conventions are now "public spectacles for mass consumption" rather than smoke-filled halls of debate, negotiation, and last-minute surprises (could we even imagine a dark horse candidate today?) Finally, 1948 gave voters the last real choice from the ideological spectrum. While Truman and Dewey were similar in their centrist views, Wallace and Thurmond added much-desired views at the extremes. While the two fringe candidates never seriously challenged for the White House, they did receive substantial coverage and for a time, many thought Thurmond might force the election into the House. And, in something unimaginable in today's reactionary landscape, Truman actually veered Left in order to win!Read more ›
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