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Eisenhower in War and Peace Paperback – May 7, 2013
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“Magisterial.”—The New York Times
“[A] fine new biography . . . [Eisenhower’s] White House years need a more thorough exploration than many previous biographers have given them. Smith, whose long, distinguished career includes superb one-volume biographies of Grant and Franklin Roosevelt, provides just that.”—The Washington Post
“Highly readable . . . [Smith] shows us that [Eisenhower’s] ascent to the highest levels of the military establishment had much more to do with his easy mastery of politics than with any great strategic or tactical achievements.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Always engrossing . . . Smith portrays a genuinely admirable Eisenhower: smart, congenial, unpretentious, and no ideologue. Despite competing biographies from Ambrose, Perret, and D’Este, this is the best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“No one has written so heroic a biography [on Eisenhower] as this year’s Eisenhower in War and Peace [by] Jean Edward Smith.”—The National Interest
“Dwight Eisenhower, who was more cunning than he allowed his adversaries to know, understood the advantage of being underestimated. Jean Edward Smith demonstrates precisely how successful this stratagem was. Smith, America’s greatest living biographer, shows why, now more than ever, Americans should like Ike.”—George F. Will
About the Author
Jean Edward Smith is the author of the highly acclaimed FDR, winner of the 2008 Francis Parkman Prize; Grant, a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist; John Marshall: Definer of a Nation; and Lucius D. Clay: An American Life. A member of the faculty at the University of Toronto for thirty-five years, and at Marshall University for twelve, he is currently a senior scholar in the history department at Columbia.
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As an example of Smith's ability to present Eisenhower's flaws is Smith's inclusion of Ike's affair with Kay Summersby during World War II. If anything, I think Smith dwelt a little too much on Ike's wartime affair; while I feel it is necessary to include in any detailed biography of Eisenhower, I sometimes wondered why Smith devoted so much space to the affair, and especially to speculation about how physical the General's relationship with her became.
Another thing that I found curious about this biography was how much Smith quoted and referred to historian Stephen Ambrose. Stephen Ambrose has encountered professional opprobrium because he included plagiarized materials in at least one of his books. Given Ambrose's past history, I found it odd that Smith used material from Ambrose so much in his biography of Eisenhower, especially when Smith admitted that Ambrose had fabricated an entire episode from Ike's life in one of his books.
Still, I did enjoy reading Smith's biography of Eisenhower. I especially liked how Smith carefully recounted Ike's early military career, because the reader can clearly see how Eisenhower's experiences in his early career laid the foundation for things he did much later in his career. For example, in 1919, Eisenhower joined an Army convoy that travelled from the United States' east coast to her west coast, and this trip gave Eisenhower the opportunity to experience in the most direct way possible how poor America's highways were in the years immediately following World War I. This experience, in turn, led directly to President Eisenhower's push to create the modern Intertsate highway system, which has greatly improved transportation throughout the United States ever since construction began on the Interstate highways in the late 1950s.
One insight I really value was the realization that Dwight Eisenhower kept the United States from dropping the atomic bomb not once, not twice, but three times during his years as President. He also calmly rejected plans by fellow generals to continue the war in Korea during his post-election visit to Korea prior to his inauguration as President. Smith notes that had any civilian won the 1952 Presidential election, that President-elect might easily have been intimidated by military leaders into approving their plans to continue the Korean War. President-elect Eisenhower, on the other hand, had enough military experience as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II to reject his fellow general's plans as so much poppycock.
I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to read a well-written, in-depth account of the life and times of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I was especially taken with the narrative of his rise through the ranks, helped often by those who recognized his abilities, and the depth of his experiences. My only disappointment with the book was the covering of his life after the presidency; I would have liked to know more about what his day-to-day life had been like, what his thoughts were on how the country was progressing. But on the whole, I found this book to be some solace for the heartbreak of today's politics.
If he'd had 4 terms he might even have kept us out of Vietnam!
He really wore himself out both as general and president (16 hour days and a 3 pack a day smoking habit during WWII). When he did quit smoking after the war, he quit cold turkey and never smoked again... impressive will power. He died of cardiovascular problems less than a decade after his term ended in 1960.