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Eisenhower: The White House Years Paperback – October 2, 2012
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America’s thirty-fourth president was belittled by his critics as the babysitter-in-chief. This new look reveals how wrong they were. Dwight Eisenhower was bequeathed the atomic bomb and refused to use it. He ground down Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism until both became, as he said, "McCarthywasm." He stimulated the economy to lift it from recession, built an interstate highway system, turned an $8 billion deficit in 1953 into a $500 million surplus in 1960. (Ike was the last President until Bill Clinton to leave his country in the black.)
The President Eisenhower of popular imagination is a benign figure, armed with a putter, a winning smile, and little else. The Eisenhower of veteran journalist Jim Newton's rendering is shrewd, sentimental, and tempestuous. He mourned the death of his first son and doted on his grandchildren but could, one aide recalled, "peel the varnish off a desk" with his temper. Mocked asshallow and inarticulate, he was in fact a meticulous manager. Admired as a general, he was a champion of peace. In Korea and Vietnam, in Quemoy and Berlin, his generals urged him to wage nuclear war. Time and again he considered the idea and rejected it. And it was Eisenhower who appointed the liberal justices Earl Warren and William Brennan and who then called in the military to enforce desegregation in the schools.
Rare interviews, newly discovered records, and fresh insights undergird this gripping and timely narrative.
Praise for Jim Newton's Eisenhower: The White House Years
“Newton’s book is thorough and reasonable. . . . What makes it valuable now is the timing: We need this book and its insights to judge the vicious and counterproductive politics of these days. This is a book worth reading.” —Richard Reeve, Los Angeles Times
"An essential narrative. . . . [Newton's] objective is to tell the story, and he does so well, inviting us to form our own opinions and giving us a sense of an era that seems both quaint and comfortable in our own age of harsh polarization." —The Wall Street Journal
"Drawing on declassified documents, Newton's narrative, especially of the many international crises, is clear, brisk, and insightful, a timely study of a master of consensus politics with lessons for today's polarized Washington." —Publishers Weekly
"[Newton's] well-researched account shows that Eisenhower was an engaged, decisive leader guided by some bedrock moral and political beliefs. . . . A well-done presentation that helps correct enduring perceptions about an effective but misunderstood presidency." —Booklist
"A truly great book, spirited, balanced, and not just the story of President Eisenhower but of an era." —Bob Woodward
"Jim Newton brings President Eisenhower to life, and we walk with him page by page as he’s transformed from epic General to two-term President. Newton navigates a fascinating journey from military leader to novice politician to one of the most beloved Presidents in our history." —John F. Kerry, U.S. Senator
"Jim Newton does a masterful job illustrating the forces that confronted Dwight Eisenhower during his years in the White House, from nuclear politics to race relations to the federal debt and deficit. He paints a vivid portrait of a president struggling to find middle ground—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—but always with the good of the country in mind. While many Americans are intimately familiar with Eisenhower the general, less is known about Eisenhower the president. Newton artfully fills that void, examining the evolution of our 34th president from the invasion of Normandy to the political warfare of Washington." —Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senator
"Newton's contribution is as cogent an inventory of Eisenhower's White House years as I've ever read. He blends masterful writing with historic detail and provides the value-added of Ike as the man and the leader. This is a book for all who are interested in a better understanding of how America and the World were shaped post–WWII and for those who aspire to lead: Read Newton's book first." —Chuck Hagel, Distinguished Professor, Georgetown University; U.S. Senator (1997–2009)
"Jim Newton has given us an entirely fresh look at Dwight Eisenhower—and his riveting book couldn't be more timely or useful today." —Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine
"Ike's wisdom, born of experience and intellect, is on display in this important book, which heightens appreciation for his leadership. Newton reveals, for instance, that after the Korean War, only one American soldier was killed in combat during Eisenhower's presidency. This volume contributes to our understanding of an outstanding human being." —George P. Shultz, 60th U.S. Secretary of State
“Dwight Eisenhower’s eight years as the 34th president of the United States marked a shining moment in American history. In short, it was a wonderful period of prosperity, peace and freedom. But during his presidency and for years afterwards, many believed that Ike was a decent but do-nothing president who left the hard work to others. In his book, Eisenhower: The White House Years, Jim Newton does a superb job of dispelling that false myth and describing Eisenhower as a dedicated chief executive who excelled at running the country.” —James A. Baker, III, 61st U.S. Secretary of State
"Jim Newton's book is a fresh and welcome reminder that Dwight D. Eisenhower was not only a superb general, but a cunning, shrewd and surprisingly progressive politician, and one of our most important presidents. A very welcome book!"
—Michael Korda, author of Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia
"As we enter another critical political season, there is little we can benefit from more than a knowledge of our 34th President, Dwight Eisenhower, his values and the giant decisions of his Presidency that those values motivated. Jim Newton's Eisenhower, The White House Years, simply and eloquently, delivers the man, his Presidency and, if America is paying attention, the life lessons that are his legacy." —Norman Lear
“Jim Newton has written a captivating book that reinforces the rising tide of positive studies of the Eisenhower presidency. Gracefully written and rigorously researched, The White House Years introduces the reader to ‘a great man at the height of his power,’ a master at ‘waging peace,’ more effectively than any other post-war president.” —David A. Nichols, author of Eisenhower 1956 and A Matter of Justice
“Jim Newton’s brilliant reassessment of Eisenhower’s presidency is long overdue, and his book makes it clear that Ike was indeed a great president. Ike’s insistence on always doing the right thing for the country despite party pressure and personal predilection serves as a valuable model for politicians in all three branches of government. Jim Newton's book should be required reading on Pennsylvania Avenue and Capitol Hill.” —William S. Sessions
About the Author
JIM NEWTON is a veteran journalist who began his career as clerk to James Reston at the New York Times. Since then, he has worked as a reporter, bureau chief and editor of the Los Angeles Times, where he presently is the editor-at-large. He also is an educator and author, whose acclaimed biography of Chief Justice Earl Warren, Justice for All, was published in 2006. He lives in Pasadena, CA.
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (October 2, 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 480 pages
- ISBN-10 : 076792813X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0767928137
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.16 x 1 x 7.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,133,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top reviews from the United States
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From my perspective, Eisenhower was America’s first “covert” president, both in foreign and domestic policy and procedure. Often derided as a disengaged president, spending his presidency either playing golf or bridge, Newton shows a President who inconspicuously worked behind the scenes to achieve his goals, leaning on his formidable and accomplished cabinet and backing down more radical elements from within his own party such as Joseph McCarthy. His New Look foreign policy strategy was a multi-pronged approach which aimed to “contain and roll-back international Communism through nuclear deterrence, sound budgets, and covert action”.
Putting this covert action into effect, Eisenhower authorized the removal of two sitting democratically elected leaders of foreign nations by removing Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran and the military coup d'état of Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz, under the pretense of resisting the spread of communism and Soviet influence. By covertly installing more “American friendly” leaders (the Shah in Iran and Carlos Castillo Armas in Guatemala) through aiding opposition party upheavals with military arms assistance and CIA backed espionage, Eisenhower’s approach would forever change the way America’s foreign policy was conducted, and should be regarded with more scrutiny on his Presidency. This interventionist approach would create its own domino effect backlash triggering the eventual rise of persistent American opposition such as the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and Che Guevara in Latin America.
On the domestic front, his middle way approach yielded some impressive results. Large consequential and legacy defining infrastructure projects such as the construction St. Lawrence Seaway and the commencement of the Interstate Highway System were initiated. His selection of Earl Warren as Supreme Court Chief Justice tilted the court more progressively allowing the landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka to pave the way for racial integration in public schools. After witnessing southern reactionary backlash, Eisenhower quickly distanced his Administration from the ruling, which was disappointing to learn, nevertheless dispatching federal troops to quell the southern resistance, escorting and protecting nine black students into the all-white Little Rock Central High. Subsequent albeit meager Civil Rights legislation followed, the first since Reconstruction.
While not a perfect substitute for a more traditional and comprehensive biography of the man known as Ike, particularly of his military career that so formidably shaped him, Jim Newton’s Eisenhower: The White House Years is a thorough and wide-ranging account of the Eisenhower presidency. Newton’s account shows a presidency mostly focused on foreign policy and fighting for and ultimately winning a “perilous peace.” Each chapter packs a lot of punch in the 357 pages. Overall, a solid and friendly portrait of the man and his tenure as President.
The book is particularly strong in detailing Eisenhower's middle-of-the-road "Third Way" approach to domestic policy. I suspect that Eisenhower would not be welcome at the upcoming Republican National Convention. While not a great believer in the New Deal programs established in the 1930s, Eisenhower recognized the place for government in protecting individuals in a complex, industrialized society. Newton also draws a nuanced portrait of both the strengths and shortcomings of the Third Way philosophy to civil rights, which was becoming an important issue in the 1950s. Basically, Eisenhower supported a gradualist approach to civil rights that was not in keeping with the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. While not a racist-at least by the standards of the 1950s-Eisenhower was not particularly comfortable with racial agitation and was sympathetic to what he considered the South's dilemma in dealing with rapid social change. Nevertheless, when forced to the wall by southern intransigence, he sent troops to Little Rock to enforce court-ordered desegregation. He did this, however, to defend the rule of law rather than out of any particular sympathy with the civil rights movement. Nevertheless, Eisenhower did sign the first, albeit weak, civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Newton's analysis of the president's ambivalence with regard to civil rights seems fair to me and I think this is one of the strongest parts of the book.
However, I believe Newton's account of Eisenhower's stewardship of the Cold War is seriously flawed. Basically, Newton believes that Eisenhower was a great president because he ended the Korean War and kept the country at peace during the fifties without losing any territory to the Communists. This is true as far as it goes but is somewhat simplistic. For example, while Newton seems to accept Eisenhower's own belief that his threat of using nuclear weapons caused the Communists to settle, most historians believe that Stalin's death played a major role in the ending of the war. Newton never even mentions this. For the most part, Newton seems to take at face value the administration's statements about seeking accommodations with the Soviet Union. But he either ignores or is not aware of the extensive academic literature that suggests that Eisenhower was an active, ideological Cold Warrior who was more concerned with winning the Cold War than with negotiating an end to it. Many historians believe there was an opportunity to seek a detente with the Soviet Union after Stalin's death in 1953 but that the Eisenhower Administration failed to pursue the opportunity. In addition, Newton tends to credit explanations of policies that support his view that Eisenhower sought peace and ignores other explanations that would challenge this conclusion. One example of this is Eisenhower's "Open Skies" proposal which would have allowed the United States and the Soviet Union to overfly the other's military installations in order to prevent surprise attacks. Newton sees this as a purely altruistic gesture aimed at lowering tensions in the Cold War. It may have been to some extent, but it was also a plan that would have been far more advantageous to the United States than to the Soviet Union. Most historians have recognized that Open Skies, whatever its merits as a means of détente, was likely also motivated by military considerations. Newton, however, simply bewails the Soviets' rejection of the plan without considering why they would have seen Open Skies as a threat.
More seriously, in my view, Newton does not address sufficiently Eisenhower's use of the CIA to overthrow governments seen as communist or communist-influenced, particularly in Iran and Guatemala. Eisenhower did keep the United States out of war but he did so partly by using covert means to get rid of governments he did not like even if it involved supporting repressive regimes. He did this while, at the same time, celebrating the "Free World" even though many of the countries in the Free World were not free. Neither Guatemala or Iran have ever really recovered from the U.S. intervention and, particularly with Iran, we are feeling the effects of Eisenhower's actions. (In fairness, however, Great Britain was really the driving force behind the Iran intervention.) To his credit, Newton recognizes the questionable legitimacy of Eisenhower's reliance on covert actions but he does not seem to recognize that this approach not only undermined the United States' moral standing but also laid the foundation for greater disasters in the future, including the Bay of Pigs fiasco. In some cases, Newton simply strikes one as incredibly naïve. For example, with respect to Guatamala, Newton notes that the Arbenz government was creating problems for the United Fruit Company and other U.S. multinationals. Yet, he argues that Eisenhower's decision to overthrow Arbenz was not motivated by a desire to simply help United Fruit. This may be true in a narrow sense but Eisenhower's circle of friends and advisers included primarily corporate executives. These executives were obviously deeply concerned about actions by foreign governments, particularly in Latin American, which harmed corporate interests. Newton acknowledges that American corporate interests influenced how the administration interpreted events in Latin America. But, in my opinion, he underestimates this influence. Ultimately, Newton does not seem to think that Eisenhower's reliance on covert operations-and his seeming lack of understanding of the problems in developing countries- undermine his presidential standing but I think it does.
My real concern, however, is not with Newton's conclusions but his apparent unwillingness to address seriously the problems with Eisenhower's approach to the Cold War. I realize this was, probably intentionally, a relatively short book that could not deal in depth with the academic literature. But, Newton should have been aware of it and he should have recognized that it raised significant questions about Eisenhower's presidency. By no means do I think that Eisenhower was a poor president or some nefarious tool of American capitalism; he faced a variety of difficult problems and an unpredictable adversary. His Farewell Address in which he condemned the growing influence of the military-industrial complex is compelling. Nevertheless, I could not escape the feeling that Newton elided questions that would have called into question his view of Eisenhower as a great president.
Top reviews from other countries
'peace deals' with the Soviet Union. Despite his extraordinary military success and prestige, he warned against the overbearing influence of the military in domestic affairs. Eisenhower's legacy has been unjustly forgotten due to the hype over his successor John Kennedy. Eisenhower was upset at the emphasis on Kennedy's 'youth' and the new coming young generation, feeling this neglected his achievements.