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on August 21, 2000
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. Karabell implies repeatedly that such polarization was unprecedented; perhaps he wasn't aware that a decade beforehand, conservatives couldn't even bring themselves to refer to Franklin Roosevelt by his real name; or that the Red Scare of 1919-1920 had wiped out meaningful left-right debate for a decade. Speaking of redbaiting, Karabell even argues at one point that Truman's campaign style was indirectly responsible for the rise of Joe McCarthy, who apparently felt justified in destroying hundreds of lives because Truman had run against the Taft-Hartley Act and the like. (It is true that Truman's own anticommunism helped pave McCarthy's way, but that's something else entirely.) Overall, this book does a decent job as far as the basic facts are concerned, but Karabell's analysis is as wrong for 1948 as it is for 2000. It would probably warrant another star if he'd left off the final chapter.
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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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on May 20, 2000
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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on August 3, 2002
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. I am always proud when one of our leaders tries to point out to the average American what is really being done to them and find myself at odds with Karabell on this point but it does not hurt the overall book and the reader should make up his on mind about Truman's populism.
Dewey carried scars from the 1944 campaign into 1948. In '44 he had attacked Roosevelt, probably too much and was convinced that was what cost him the election. So, in 1948 he refused to attack Truman at all. No matter what Truman said about him Dewey said nothing. Dewey in fact was probably the first candidate of the television era. He said nothing that might offend anyone. By the end of the campaign there were warning signs of a Truman come back but Dewey and his people refused to notice. One of Dewey's top backers, E. F. Hutton tried to warn Dewey that if he didn't start to respond to Truman's attacks he was going to get beat. This book is well worth five stars for this one line. "E.F. Hutton spoke, but no one listened."
Buy this book. When someone complains that today's milk toast campaigns are too dirty hand them this work and tell them to read it. We need more campaigns like 1948 where there is a clear choice for the voter. Our system is drowning in Dewey like candidates who refuse to offend anyone. No wonder people don't vote. Before you hand Karabell's book to someone else be sure to read it yourself. Love Truman or hate him, this book will help you understand him.
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on June 18, 2000
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! Author Zachary Karabell writes with a lively pen and even though this is a serious historical study, he never fails to add a dash of humor or even a pointed remark. From the campaign trains to the deluded pollsters; from Dewey's "relaxed" evenings at home (in a stiff suit and tie, no less) to Thurmond's shameless flirting at various beauty contests, this book is revealing, intelligent, and always a great read.
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on May 1, 2000
I have to agree with the reviewer below me that the book was a bit shallow and misinformed at times. I couldn't understand why the author wrote about the two fringe candidates as much as he did about Harry Truman and Tom Dewey. Even when discussing the real players, the book drifted at times. Nevertheless, these disappointments were compensated by the storyline itself: perhaps the most interesting and surprising presidential election of the twentieth century. If you're interested in the 1948 vote or Cold War politics, this is a fine book. Otherwise, leave it off your Mothers' Day shopping list.
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on February 17, 2015
This is a an excellent book for political junkies about maybe the most interesting national election ever. The author personalizes the candidates and explores in considerable depth the differences between them. His discussion of the two minor parties, the Progressives and the Dixiecrats
was for me especially enlightening and fun reading. Even though you know from the beginning what the end is going to be, the author makes the journey along the road most interesting. Five Stars
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on May 3, 2000
The Last Campaign is an in-depth survey of how Truman won the 1948 election tells of a race in which Americans had the choice from a far Left to a far Right candidate. Truman's chances seemed doomed by Wallace's left-wing party and Thurmond's right ring party: this focuses on how his staff developed a reelection plan with a radical strategy - which succeeded.
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on April 29, 2000
This is a marvelous piece of narrative history - with colorful characters, fascinating stories, and evocative anecdotes. It's also a wonderful book to read, with a familiar but compelling cast of characters - Truman, Dewey, Henry Wallace and even Strom Thurmond. It also makes us think about politics today and how they've changed over the past half-century. Zachary Karabell highlights the role of money and television in presidential elections, and he manages to entertain us in the process. More than anything, The Last Campaign carries us briskly along, bringing an earlier era to life.
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on June 30, 2000
Other reviewers have deservedly given high accolades to this lively, eminently readable narrative of one of our most fascinating presidential elections. Those of us who lived it will never forget the stunning impact of Truman's astonishing upset victory. All these years later, I thank the author for his well-rounded analysis of how and why this happened. My one major disappointment, however, is the complete absence of any of the excitement of election night and the morning after (I would have expected an entire chapter on this). We are given absolutely no insight into how Truman and Dewey felt as the returns trickled in; when one or the other began to sense victory or defeat; when the experts began to concede their misjudgments. Instead, we are abruptly transitioned from the candidates casting their own votes, to Truman's election. Surely, we are deprived of a night of incredibly intense emotions that must have been witnessed by many who were there. Indeed, my own recollection is that in those pre-electronic times the outcome was not all that certain even on the morning after. Whether that was simply denial or not, that was a part of this story that I was really looking forward to, but one not to be found in this book.
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