131 of 142 people found the following review helpful
on August 26, 2007
When I saw this book for the first time, I was excited (as always) when a new Eisenhower book comes out. He is my favorite historical personality to study, and was even a central figure in my Thesis when I completed my Masters Degree in History. However, once I looked at the book, my disappointment began to develop almost from the start.
The book jacket's description would lead you to believe that this would be a comprehensive biography, but one need only look at the Table of Contents to figure out it is not. Instead, Korda's book joins the long list of books to focus on Eisenhower's role in the military and in World War II, but only glosses over his two terms as President of the United States. In doing so, Korda actually contradicts one of his own stated thesis points on Ike, i.e. that he was one of our greatest Presidents. If, as Korda says, he was one of our greatest Presidents, why does he only spend all of one and a half chapters on his presidency? Ridiculous!
Eisenhower was an extremely important President, and one overlooked for too long until Greenstein and Ambrose resurrected him from the depths of the Presidential rankings in the 1980's. Sadly, Korda's work adds next to nothing to the growing body of historical work on Eisenhower's presidency.
But, still interested in reading what Korda had to say on Eisenhower, I bought the book and read it. The one positive thing I have to say about it is that it is a flowing, easy, enjoyable read, and I mostly agreed with Korda's thesis points on Ike's military career.
But in reality, Korda adds almost nothing new or important to the historical work on Ike's military career either. There are several other books already out there that provide a much more detailed study and/or important information on Ike's military career, including the lengthy books by Carlo D'Este, Merle Miller, and Stephen Ambrose. All of these books already say pretty much what Korda says in terms of detailed information, but also add much more to the story of Ike's military career than Korda does.
I will gladly keep this book in my ever growing library of historical works on Eisenhower, but I predict it will not be regarded as THE standard for a biography on Eisenhower, nor even THE standard for one volume works on Ike. That honor, in my view, still goes to Stephen Ambrose's work. His two volumes on Eisenhower ("Eisenhower-Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect" and "Eisenhower-the President") are still the most complete, detailed, informative, and accurate work on this important American leader. Ambrose's one volume abridgement (Eisenhower-Soldier and President) is still the best one volume work on Eisenhower's complete life and career.
50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Although this is a long book, it is also a quick read due in no small part to the author's crisp writing style, which holds the reader's interest. This is a very engaging biography of a great American general.
The best part of this book is its beginning. The author immediately puts the subject matter of this biography in context by pointing out that "heros" are really not part of the American culture, and generally those who experience acclaim in their lifetimes are later the subject of criticism and revisionism. Thus US Grant had a drinking problem, Lincoln did not free the slaves as quickly or as completely as he ought, etc. Thus it is with Eisenhower as well. While "Ike" received adulation in his lifetime for leading the Western armies to victory against Germany, revisionists have been at him ever since criticizing his "broad front" strategy against Germany, his alleged "hands off" leadership style as both General and President, etc. The famous "Eisenhower grin" is taken by revisionists as nothing more than evidence that Ike was a shallow chap who made it to the top by virtue of a pleasant personality. Nothing, the author points out, was more predictable than that this type of revisionism would occur.
This biography makes the case that Eisenhower was in fact a remarkable man with numerous gifts including intelligence, integrity, and the ability to gain the confidence of superiors by his exercise of these traits. One also discerns that Eisenhower had the ability to see through detail to find and solve the main component of a problem.
This biography makes it plain that Eisenhower was identified by several powerful Army generals fairly early in his career, as someone destined for high rank and great responsibility. First General Conner (who I had never heard of) groomed Ike and saw to it that he attended the Army's Command and General Staff School and other schools that Army "comers" seek to attend. Conner brought Ike to the attention of General Marshall, who no one has ever accused of being subject to influence by someone's vapid "nice guy" personality. In a very short time Marshall saw to it that Ike was placed in charge of implementing America's plans to defeat Nazi Germany. The rest, as they say, is history.
Korda's analysis of Ike's performance as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe is very interesting. Unabashedly pro-Eisenhower, Korda makes the case that Ike had some learning to do on the job (his performance in North Africa was far from perfect) but that he learned quickly. Indeed, the entire American Army was essentially green and not battle-tested; Ike was far from alone in this regard. North Africa served to blood and harden the American Army, including its commander, Eisenhower. It also taught Ike and the British how to fuse two (three, counting the French) armies into a single fighting force.
Korda's thesis of Ike as a General is essentially to liken him to Ulysses S Grant. Korda argues that Eisenhower deduced that to defeat the Germans it was necessary to essentially keep throwing Allied manpower and equipment against them, keeping them engaged, thereby maximizing the Allies' advantages of material, which derived from America's overwhelming economic-industrial superiority. This strategy mirrors Grant's successful strategy against Lee in the US Civil War, and Korda makes a good case that this strategy, employed by Eisenhower, was the correct one. The British, of course, favored a narrower thrust in the north aimed at Berlin and the German coastal cities (which, by no coincidence, would have meant that Montgomery would lead the main Allied thrust). The reader can make up his or her own mind on this point, but I would argue that Ike's broad front strategy seems to have worked, and it prevented the Germans from attacking the Allies on the flank worse than they in fact did in the Battle of the Bulge. (This was Ike's main argument against the narrow front strategy.)
The author makes a good case that Eisenhower did a good job commanding Allied forces during the Battle of the Bulge, and that this battle in fact was consistent with Ike's strategy of engaging the Germans to the maximum extent possible. (Better to engage them in a mobile battle than to fight dug-in German formations at the Siegfried Line.) In any case, within a month the German Army was soundly trounced by largely American arms, and every soldier in both armies knew that the defeat of Germany was now only a matter of time.
One theme that recurs throughout Korda's analysis of Ike as General is the famous Kay Summersby relationship. Was it innocent, or was it not? The author does not purport to tell us, but does provide the reader with a great deal of insights into this somewhat unusual question.
The book's analysis of Ike as president is much less detailed than the rest of this piece, but is not bad for all that. It paints Ike as a competent president who was largely in tune with the American people, and who led them largely in the direction where they wanted to go, and where the national interest required, i.e. a strong defense against Russia, and avoidance of nuclear conflict.
This is a very good book. I gave it five stars because it is unusually well-written, and it eschews engaging in trendy revisionism of a man who, in fact, dominated the world stage for many years to the very great benefit of America, her allies, and the world.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2008
The first 1/3 of the book is spent on the first 45 years or so of Ike's life, which is remarkable for its dullness. He really did nothing of note or of interest until WW2. Then, most of the rest of the book is dedicated to war-years (which is already well-trodden ground). Relatively little space is dedicated to his two terms as President, which I find appalling. Four years at war get almost 500 pages but 8 years as leader of the most powerful country in the history of the world get maybe 50? A very imbalanced treatment, IMO, and very disappointing.
On a lesser note: the habit of the author to drop (un-translated) French and German phrases is pretentious and annoying. The author also makes a few attempts to dabble in psycho-history, which I've never been able to take seriously. Aside from these minor points, the writing is o.k.
I'm sure one wouldn't have to work very hard to find a better treatment of Eisenhower and his work.
Not terrible but not recommended.
25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2007
Ike: An American Hero is a decent treatment of Dwight D. Eisenhower's life, but it pales in comparison to the biographies written by Stephen Ambrose and Carlo D'Este. Korda relied almost exclusively on secondary works for his research, as his endnotes and bibliography indicate; to include Ambrose's and D'Este's books. He acknowledges his debt to previous writers, especially D'Este, but the lack of emphasis on primary research means there is little in Korda's book that is new to students of Eisenhower, World War Two, or the American presidency. Additionally, Korda perpetuates some minor errors regarding Ike's early career that other authors such as Mark C. Bender have taken pains to correct. These weaknesses combine to keep Ike: An American Hero from being a much better book.
Korda compensates for these problems by writing in a lucid style that evidences a strong regard for his subject. He succeeds in keeping the reader engaged in the story of Eisenhower's life, and is at his best when discussing World War II and Ike's relationships with senior officers such as Patton and Montgomery.
Overall, this is a good book, but not a great one. I recommend for the quality of Korda's writing rather than the depth of his research and analysis.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2008
Starts off waxing lyrical about how Americans feel uncomfortable making men into heroes - idolizing them as anything special (ignoring monuments to Washington, Lincoln, etc.). Makes factual errors on issues not central to Korda's subject (Ike) and thus showing that he has done little peripheral research. For instance he places Cherbourg in Britanny, not in Normandy.
His sense of geography is terrible. Of "Operation Torch" he writes about how widespread the invasions were, saying "spread across nearly 2,500 miles of coast from Safi, in French Morocco, the easternmost point; to Algiers, the westernmost point". The only problem with this is he's got east and west around the wrong way! Algiers is east of Morocco!
Further he talks of how 30,000 Australian troops were captured with the fall of Tobruk (1942). This never happened. Australians successively defended Tobruk in 1941 against the Germans until the garrison was relieved. Rommel made a resurgent drive across North Africa and then took the port in 1942, capturing its garrison of South Africans. Perhaps he's confused with Australians who were captured at the fall of Singapore, half-way around the world... except he'd already mentioned that fact!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I liked this book. Overall, it flowed quite well, was informative, interesting and an enjoyable read. But it does have some issues. The author is a decidedly biased Ike fan and definitely anti-British. He takes far too many pokes at British General Montgomery and after the first couple they become tiresome. He also speculates far too often, sometimes even admitting he had no basis whatsoever for the speculation.
If you have not read any books on Ike then this might be a good choice. If you have already read all the others then this one probably will not provide much in the way of anything new.
If you believe or remember Ike to have been an excellent soldier and an excellent President then you will most assuredly enjoy this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2010
I'd never read a book by the somewhat ancient author Michael Korda -- he's three months older than me -- until now. He occasionally repeats himself, but the old boy is still a thrilling writer. If, as pointed out by one musical reviewer, Korda in one book is not as good on the subject of Eisenhower as Ambrose in two books, so be it, but I am enjoying this book to the maxarooney, despite not enough time and money being spent on orthography.
I'm learning so much about World War Two, the military, and many other subjects. Write on, Korda!
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2007
Eisenhower's improbable life certainly makes for an interesting story, and Korda has the skills to keep the narrative flowing. It took Stephen Ambrose two volumes to chronicle Ike's life, as much an Ike booster as Ambrose was, he pales in comparison to Korda. There were a number of things about this book that bothered me. First, Korda seems to think Ike was a demigod and practically won the war by himself. There's no doubt that Eisenhower had the right temperament for a nearly impossible job, but Korda backs him on every decision of the war. Second, the author loves to add little footnotes about how he met such and such when it adds nothing to the narrative. Third, he constantly compares Eisenhower to Grant. I guess this is due to the fact that Korda wrote a biography about Grant and presumably thinks he won the Civil War by himself, too. Finally, he rushes through Ike's presidency in less than 100 pages, and gives him much more credit than other historians. Korda would lead the reader to believe that Eisenhower shined in the Little Rock crisis when in reality he was hardly a leader on civil rights. McArthur, Truman, Roosevelt - all are treated with disdain. Korda doesn't even seem to think much of Churchill. Eisenhower deserved a more balanced, thoughtful biography than this.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Michael Korda's Ike is a fascinating look into one of the most famous men of the twentieth century. He was a first-rate solider and statesman, this life-long solider would leave office warning the nation of the growing military-industrial complex. This is an incredible story of a boy from Abilene, Kansas who would rise to become one of the most famous figures on the world stage. If history had not intervened he probably would have retired from the army a bird colonel and we never would heard about him.
The book begins with Korda explaining how the United States mistreats its heroes of the past, through endless amounts of revision it tears down one giant after another. Then the narrative shifts to the moments before the great invasion of D-Day. General Eisenhower is making not only on the most important decisions of his life, but in all of world history. Then from there the story changes again, it goes back to his time as a boy. Actually Korda spends a minute trying to explain the entire family history leading up to the birth of David Dwight Eisenhower whose first two names would later be switched around. There is almost no hint of what was ultimately going to come. His army career is pretty basic he moves slowly up the chain of command with his commanding officers seeing his greatest value as coaching the base's football team.
Eisenhower gets married to Mamie Doud, and she ends up becoming a typical Army wife always looking to `push hubby' through. Eisenhower played no significant role in World War I; he was just a staff officer, although, he did run into another officer, only slightly senior to him, George Patton.
"Both men were fiercely ambitious, but Ike did his best to conceal his ambition, whereas Patton wore his on his sleeve. Unlike Ike, Patton was eccentric, erratic, vain, deeply emotional, and a full-fledged military romantic, in love with the whole idea of glory, capable of writing, as Ike would surely not have been, of his beloved cavalry, `You must be: a horse master, a scholar; a high minded gentleman; a cold blooded hero; a hot-blooded savage.' Such words--and sentiments--came easily to Patton, who saw himself (and wanted others to see him) as a cavalier, a swashbuckling hero on horseback, a student of war history and war poetry; and who at times seriously believed himself to be the reincarnation of great warriors of the past. Perhaps no solider has ever had a more romantic view of war, and, at the same time, a better understanding of its hard practicalities, than Patton."p.148
Dwight D. Eisenhower spent sixteen years at the rank of major. He was just a major when Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928, which is odd when it is considered that Major Eisenhower would be the next Republican to win election. Eisenhower spent a few good years as the top aid to General MacArthur when the General was the Chief of Staff of the United States Army. At this point Eisenhower had actually made lieutenant colonel.
"MacArthur's remaining year as Army Chief of Staff was painful, as Roosevelt, with the deft political cunning for which he soon became famous, carefully undercut the position of the person he regarded as one of the two `most dangerous men in America,' while all the time continuing to profess admiration and warm affection for him, he was only too aware that the New Dealers, as they were already beginning to be known, viewed him with deep suspicion, hated him for his reactionary political views, and were afraid he might harbor political ambitions which would bring him in open conflict with the administration--that he might become, in fact, the proverbial `man on a white horse' in the event of a fascist putsch in America. In short, their feelings about General MacArthur were a paranoid as his about them."p.205
When World War II broke out Eisenhower would begin to make his mark on the world, in a little over three and half years he would rise from lieutenant colonel to five-star-general. In that time he over saw the invasion of Sicily and the invasion of the Italian mainland. As the Supreme Allied Commander, he had to be both politician and solider. He was great at both roles. In the politician angle he had great success, especially in Britain. While in Britain there was one lady there named Kay Summersby, who Eisenhower may have known a little too well. She was officially his chauffeur but she proved to be a lot more than that.
"Perhaps the only people of consequence who snubbed Kay were King George VI, who was always petrified by the slightest hint of an improper relationship because of the misfortunes of his older brother, and who deliberately treated her like a chauffeur, which is to say a servant; and General Marshall, who considered part of his job to telephone Mamie once a week, and was deeply suspicious of Kay Summersby. Whatever virtues Ike may have had, however--and he had many--discretion about his friendship with Kay was not one of them, and people can hardly be blamed then or now for drawing the logical conclusion."p.284
During the D-Day invasion Eisenhower, like General Grant in the Civil War--as Kordra points out--was concerned with armies not territories. His primary mission was to defeat the Army of Germany not to capture particular points of real estate. It was this attitude that attracts his primary criticism as a general. However, it was Eisenhower who kept allies bound together and united no matter how hot-headed their leaders' personalities may have been, Eisenhower got the best out of each of them.
"Since 1945, almost everybody has had a say about the supposed mistakes that were made in the last year of the war--especially the presumed failure of on the part of the western Allies to take Berlin and the failure to confront the Soviet Union over the borders and the independence of the eastern European countries. Many if not most of these have been blamed on Roosevelt, but it should always be borne in mind that the president did not live to write his own memoirs, or to criticize those of others. Ike, when he came to write his, was careful not to join in postwar criticism of Roosevelt. Ike himself had shown no interest in wasting the lives of American soldiers to get to Berlin, and several times he offended even angered Churchill by going over the heads of the prime minister and the president to deal directly with Stalin, as if he himself were a head of state, to ensure that there would be no accidental clashes between Allied and Soviet troops as their front lines began to touch." p.432-3
When Eisenhower he served in a number of posts, finally, in 1952, Eisenhower decided to run for the Republican Nomination for president. He would win beating Senator Robert Taft, and he would go on to win the election against his Adlai E. Stevenson. He would have an eventful and successful presidency. Under him there would be an inter-state highway system and an end to the Korean War. He would send soldiers to protect the `Little Rock Nine' students who braved the way against segregation in education and all other aspects of life. The Cold War would continue with spy planes and talks of a `missal gap.' There also was the crisis in Hungry and Suez Canal.
"It was the end of more than Eden's career--it was the end of Britain's remaining pretensions to independent, imperial power; it was the end of the fiction, still persisting from World War II, that the United States, Great Britain, and France were equal world powers. (Britain would shortly abandon Malaya, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika, and much else besides; France would shortly lose Morocco, Algeria, and most of its African colonies.) Ike had acted swiftly, decisively, and undeniably for the good; and although he felt great sympathy for his old friends in Britain, and even greater sympathy for the gallant but ill-advised Hungarians, he carefully managed events to avoid a clash with the Soviet Union, and he preserved peace--not a perfect peace, to be sure, or one without victims and compromises., but still peace. The Soviet Union had threatened to use atomic weapons on London and Paris at the height of the Suez Crisis, and in order to discourage American intervention in Hungary, but Ike had taken all this blustering calmly in his stride and kept a firm control of events." p.693-4
Eisenhower retired for good, in 1961, when his successor John F. Kennedy, who had beaten Ike's vice president, Richard Nixon, took office. He would live into 1969, just long enough to see Nixon, whose daughter would marry his grandson, become president.
Michael Korda wrote a great biography on the thirty-fourth president very detailed and informative. There are also historical allusions to other time periods littered thought the book, which as a history buff, I really do appreciate that. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wanted to know more about Dwight D. Eisenhower and World War II.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2008
Once Korda reached 1945 in IKE, it feels like he filed all his research away and said, "Let's wrap this up!" Unfortunately, Ike still had 25 years left in him. Consequently, Korda's biography feels incomplete. Furthermore, for all the space Korda accords to Ike's WWII years, he pays scant attention to the Holocaust. What did Ike know about the Holocaust, about the Final Solution? What was his reaction to the liberation of the concentration camps (Korda mentions Ike's presence at just one, a sub-camp). In light of the preeminence of Holocaust studies in the past 15 years, Korda really could have shed new light with a discussion of Ike and the plight of the Jewish people. Similarly, the creation of Israel receives no mention in this book, even though Ike, as Supreme Commander of the AEF and, later, commander of NATO, would have seen, heard, and possibly opined on "The Palestine Question." In short, if well done, a 900-page offering from Korda would have been more edifying than a 700-page tome.