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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.
Top Customer Reviews
Smith takes something of a revisionist view in both the areas of Eisenhower's presidency and his role in World War II. Concerning the latter, Smith says as much in a footnote in Chapter 15, where he takes a shot at the Pogue school of thought (which "treated Eisenhower & Marshall as demigods"). Smith skillfully portrays a coalition which somehow, in spite of itself, managed to stumble towards victory with Eisenhower at the helm. Smith is unsparing in his portrayal of Eisenhower as a less than competent ground commander; the chapters dealing with North Africa & the month following the Normandy invasion are not exactly flattering. Eisenhower mismanaged the North African invasion almost from the very start, and prevailed over the Germans only by sheer force of numbers and materiel, rather than superior strategy. Similarly, Eisenhower's failure to press the advantage in France after D-Day resulted in the war in Europe being extended by nearly half a year, and his tactics allowed Germany enough time to regroup and launch its counteroffensive in the Ardennes (although once this was underway, Smith observes, Ike was one of the few command level officers to not to panic). Clearly, Eisenhower's strengths lay in the management of an unbelievably complex political and administrative situation. Even Eisenhower's critics admitted that nobody else could have done this job. However, Smith does not believe that this merits concealing Eisenhower's wartime warts.
After devoting a little less than 300 pages to Ike's 40 months during World War II, Smith devotes barely 200 pages to two full terms of the Eisenhower presidency. Really? Was this an editorial decision, or did Smith look at the work as it was unfolding and realize that if he wrote a truly detailed treatment of the Eisenhower presidency, it would require a second volume? Whatever the reasons, the chapters dealing with the presidency are far from comprehensive and instead focus on some of high points of the presidency. Smith seems to be saying, "I will provide a nice summary, and also point you in the direction of some other more comprehensive studies of Eisenhower as president," which is OK. It does, however, mean that you will need to look elsewhere for a truly thorough treatment. So don't be calling this a definitive biography, because it isn't.
This was a very enjoyable and very readable book. Even at almost 800 pages, it did not prove to be that daunting. So why only 4 stars? A small quibble would be Smith's failure to acknowledge that Churchill's insistence on a wartime strategy that would help preserve the Empire was a major reason that the Allied invasion of Europe was delayed as long as it was; Churchill and the high command consistently advocated a peripheral approach, whereas Marshall & FDR wanted to plunge into the heart of Europe at the earliest opportunity. Smith does argue that there was no way an invasion could have taken place in 1942, but I don't think anyone these days would disagree with that. 1943 is a whole different matter; there is plenty of debate on how prepared the Allies were for a 1943 invasion, but one would never know this from reading Smith.
Of greater concern is how Smith portrays Eisenhower's foreign and civil rights policies. Smith argues that because Eisenhower had better knowledge of Asia (due to his time in The Philippines), his foreign policy concerning mainland China & French Indochina was more prescient than when he was dealing with Central America or the Middle East, where he relied on the flawed advice of John Foster Dulles and company. Seriously? Everyone who knew Dulles understood that he would , if possible, cast any situation in the world into a struggle against Communism. It was his go-to move. Eisenhower blew off the advice of Dulles in Southeast Asia, but for some reason accepted his advice on Guatemala & Iran. So it isn't really Ike's fault, it's Dulles'? Come on already. For a variety of reasons, Smith is more persuasive when dealing with how Eisenhower handled Egypt & the Suez Crisis, but I felt like he was almost making excuses for Eisenhower otherwise.
Smith also goes a bit overboard in portraying Eisenhower as a fearless advocate for civil rights, highlighting Little Rock. Well yes --- if you focus on Little Rock, Ike looks pretty heroic, but there was a whole lot of tepid support for Brown which came before that. Anyone who has read David A. Nichols' A Matter of Justice: Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution knows that the Eisenhower legacy on civil rights is a good deal more complex. While Ike wasn't an obstructionist, he was hardly enlightened in the area of race relations, and definitely wasn't leading any charges in the war for racial equality.
Having said that, the footnote where Smith absolutely DESTROYS Ambrose for basically making up stuff about Eisenhower's views on segregation, and then goes on to lay waste to Ambrose's "pernicious" distortions was one of the most enjoyable things I have read in a long time. I should give the book an extra star just for that.
All in all, a very worthwhile book, which definitely should be on the reading list of anyone seeking a better understanding of Eisenhower.
Smith finds a great middle ground between meaningless detail (do we really care about the name of the corporal who drove Ike around in a Jeep in 1927?) and too glossy a story. Smith is, I think, fair in his coverage of Ike's highs as Supreme Commander and President and the lows of the same two periods. The writing is entertaining and the book moves along nicely.
The Kindle edition, however, is a problem. The text is full of misspelled words, and half way through the chapter titled Suez, all the text becomes italicized. There are graceful, readable italic fonts, and there are ungraceful, poorly kerned italic renderings. This version is exceptionally poor in both regards.
When the publisher sets an above-market price for an electronic version of a title, the buyer has every right to expect something error-free. Random House fails badly here. This is a shame because it detracts from an otherwise terrific book.
What led me to this book was watching Ike's 15 minute Farewell Address on YouTube. I suddenly realized that 90% of Americans have absolutely no idea what a "big boy" President actually sounds like.
Reading this book, you grasp the subtly of Ike's thinking while weighing the consequences of his decisions.
America entered its "decline and fall" with Kennedy's assassination and Johnson's subsequent and phony Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The Vietnam War, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have done little but bring shame and dishonor upon the American people.
This vanilla President and those lovely times and good people are dead and gone. America has become a culture without any meaningful literature, poetry, theatre or music. Our young people rank in the middle of industrialized countries in math and science. Single parent households equal those with two parents. We have yet to reach the bottom.
It has been over half-a-century since we had a big boy President. Here he is!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
So much of the world today is because of Ike. A man for the ages