Customer Reviews: Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World
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Harry Truman (1884 --- 1972) served as the Democratic 33d president of the United States from 1945 -- 1953 while Dwight Eisenhower (1890 -- 1969) served as a Republican as the 34th president from 1953 -- 1961. Both leaders had many similarities and many differences. Both played critical roles in the tumultuous period following WW II and, of course particularly in Eisenhower's case, in the War itself. William Lee Miller's new book, "Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World" (2012) is a parallel biography of these two leaders and their era. Miller is Scholar in Ethics and Institutions at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. He writes generally about earlier periods of American history, including two books about Lincoln and a study of John Quincy Adams and the "gag" rule. In this book, as in his earlier works, Miller concentrates on ethical issues in political affairs. The book would have benefitted from a more detailed introduction and statement of the author's purpose. Miller writes:

"This book is a brief narrative of the careers of [Truman and Eisenhower]. Part of the reason I chose to interweave their stories is to compare and contrast these men, in their relationships to the great issues with which they dealt and to each other (they came to have a considerable antagonism, as we shall see; their interaction is an interesting part of the story.) Another reason for telling their story jointly is that, together, their careers reveal central aspects of American culture at crucial moments in history. Both were president at times that required important national decisions."

In their early years, Truman's and Eisenhower's paths did not cross, but their lives were somewhat parallel.
The two men were born only six years and 150 miles apart in the American Midwest. Both came from rural, struggling families and both attended public schools and were raised in small Protestant denominations. Truman wanted to attend West Point but was prevented from doing so by his eyesight. Eisenhower attended West Point by accident.

Miller discusses the careers of Truman and Eisenhower during WW I and in the years between the two World Wars. Enlisting when he was already beyond draft age, Truman saw combat and showed strong leadership ability commanding an artillery unit. Following the war, Truman failed as a haberdasher, but succeeded as a local politician in Missouri with the help of the corrupt Pendergast machine. In 1940, Truman was elected to the U.S. Senate. Eisenhower was eager for combat experience during WW I, but had only a series of stateside assignments to his great frustration. In the years leading up to WW II, he made strong contacts but functioned largely in a long series of desk jobs. Miller discusses how the different experiences of Truman, as a politician, and Eisenhower, in the relatively insulated world of the professional soldier, may have shaped their subsequent conduct when each became famous.

Miller's book picks up focus when it discusses WW II as Eisenhower became the supreme allied commander and Truman an influential senator and surprise vice-president. Miller offers a brief account of Eisenhower's role in the Normandy Invasion and on his ability to secure consensus among allies in crisis times. At the same time, Miller describes how Truman assumed the presidency, for which he appeared unprepared by background, upon Roosevelt's death in April, 1945. Truman was faced immediately with decisions of moment, incluing the decision to use atomic weapons on Japan, and decisions on resisting Soviet agression following the war.

From 1945 to 1952, Truman and Eisenhower worked closely together. According to Miller, Eisenhower always had certain reservations about Truman. For his part, Truman encouraged Eisenhower several times to run as the Democratic candidate for president in 1948. With Eisenhower's decision to run for president in 1952, the relationship between the two grew frosty, to say the least. Miller offers a good account of the chill for which Eisenhower apparently bore the larger responsibility.

Miller offers perceptive comparisons of the Truman and Eisenhower presidencies and of the manner in which subsequent historians have understood and evaluated them. He offers chapters on the responses of the two leaders to the demagogery of Senator Joseph McCarthy, on Truman's and Eisenhower's accomplishments in Civil Rights, and in their conflicted attitudes towards nuclear weapons. The treatment is careful and balanced although I found it overly critical of Eisenhower in some respects. A short final chapter of the book describes the eventual resolution of the feud between the two men in the years following their presidencies.

The book is not a product of independent research in primary sources but instead draws extensively on leading published accounts about Truman, Eisenhower, the Cold War and WW II. The factual materials in this book thus have been covered more thoroughly and in greater detail in several other histories. The book lacks a bibliography and, as Miller points out, most of the many quotations and sources in the text lack ready references. The book will be difficult to use by readers interested in tracking down sources. The book is smoothly written, respectful of its subjects, and offers Miller's measured judgments. It is valuable for its broad portrayal of the United States during the Cold War and for Miller's thoughts on the leadership styles and accomplishments of two great Americans. The study will be of most value to readers with some prior knowledge of Truman, Eisenhower, and their times.

Robin Friedman
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon May 18, 2012
What is interesting about this book is how it chronicles the simple beginnings of two men who held the highest office in the land during consecutive terms at a most pivotal time in world history when the infancy of military nuclear weaponry was under their direct ownership of responsibility. Their backgrounds are socially and economically similar in some sense, yet ideologically diverse.

This book's intent is not to make a direct comparison of Truman and Eisenhower, but rather to unfold events that transpired during their lifetimes and how those events influenced them and molded them and how eventually each man would come into increasing power and responsibility and impact through their legacy history, the nation and world events.

I like this approach. If you lived, grew up in or were intimately connected to the era when these men rose to global prominence, they almost seem like they operated on parallel planes of the same universe, yet their actions had a singular impact on the national and world scene. They were two men of humble beginnings thrust into a world of global conflict, increasing scientific advancement and the responsibility to do the right thing for the better of all mankind. This is a very interesting book, without having to weigh in on one side or another on any political slant. And I like the cover, too.
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on July 30, 2012
I am a very big fan of William Lee Miller's previous books, and picked up this more on the strength of his name than of the two subjects of this dual biography. While I enjoyed this, and recommend it, I have to admit it is not up to his treatments of Lincoln, and in Arguing About Slavery, John Quincy Adams.

This present volume offers less of the dense, heavily intellectual, moral insight that characterizes his works on the 19th century. The footnotes and bibliographical information provided here are much less thorough than one expects from a scholar of Prof. Miller's stature. In a note on sources, Miller attributres this in part to "the complications of life,".

The earliest sections of the book detail seperately the youth and rise to power of Truman and Eisenhower. To me, the Truman sections seemed derivative of David McCullough's massive biography. These sections are entertaining enough, but the paths of the two men don't actually cross until World War II, when Truman makes a national reputation investigating waste in war supplies contracts and Eisenhower of course leads the assualt on Normandy. This would seem to be a great opportunity for Miller to compare and contrast, but frankly he is not much of a military historian.

The books does not really rise to the level of Miller's previous work until about the midpoint of the book, with a chapter on the containment policy, that became the cornerstone of American policy toward the Soviet Union for genrations. It is as if Miller as a writer, needs to focus on a complicated policy issues before he becomes fully engaged. Once Truman and then Eisenhower,reach the White Hosue, the book becomes much stronger and more insightful.

The chapter on how both presidents dealt with Civil Rights and racial issues is an example. Where Truman from a pro Southern background in Missouri, began many critical measures including desegregation of the armed forces, many of these were completed on Eisenhauser's watch, sometimes in spite of his tepid support.

Miller probably could have, maybe should have, devoted the entire book to how the two mid century mid Americans dealth with the race issues. His previous books set in the 19th century reprsentent some of the best historical writing on race topics.

At the end Miller, and probably most readers, will feel more like voting for Truman than Ike, but the book is quite fair to Eisenhower.
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on October 4, 2012
To me "Two Americans" is a great read. I cannot remember another history book which contained the amount of detail regarding Mr. Truman as well as General Eisenhower. The author has written a very readable book, one which is hard to put down. The humorous references throughout help to bring both Mr. Truman and General Eisenhower more into focus as individuals. I will think it a crime of todays generation passes this book up. The book should be a part of any American history course.
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on April 29, 2012
Miller's writing style is eminently readable and informative. Perhaps not a lot new hear, but I really like seeing these two compared and contrasted the way Miller has. Miller also does a good overview of the McCarthy era and how Truman and Eisenhower responded to it. If you are a student of history and this era, this book is for you.
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on November 20, 2013
A story of two presidents, each quite different, who both served their country in a terribly hard job. Well done by the author, although I doubt he voted for Ike. There, in my opinion, have been none other with such character as these two.
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on November 16, 2012
This is an interestting concept for more of a history than biography. Although it is fairly chronological, the book is divided into areas of intersts such as race, the bomb, etc. I wish the author would have spent more time on the years when the the two former Presidents had reconciled.
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on September 25, 2014
an excellent presentation contrasting two men
whoose lives shaped post WW 2. It gave me not only information but also an awareness of their differences and why. I would recommend this for those. too young to serve but we're aware of the war.Barbara
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on September 11, 2013
One of the best books I have read about these two , and about the time period...
I came away with a new respect for both, especially Truman!
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on September 1, 2014
Excellent historical retrospective of the lives and achievements of two US Presidents who served from World War II through the Cold War. Well researched and written.
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