- Hardcover: 501 pages
- Publisher: American Political Biography Press (November 5, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0945707401
- ISBN-13: 978-0945707400
- Package Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,684,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hardcover – November 5, 2007
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An obvious fan of Truman, Ferrell does not hide his hero's faults or short falls while discussing his accomplishments. Truman's days as County Judge and his relationship with Boss Pendergast show a man who maintained his principles while taking advantage of a few opportunities, both political and financial, which may have been a bit on the shady side. I would think that a story centered in Jackson County politics could get boring really fast, but in this book even that stays interesting. He depicts of the marriage of Bess and Harry as a true love match which overcame interference from Bess' mother and periods of separation when Harry was in Washington. His election to and service in the Senate make for an interesting prelude to the Presidency.
The White House years, naturally, get the heaviest attention. Truman's relationships with and opinions of FDR, George Marshall, Dean Atcheson, Eisenhower and MacArthur, Churchill, Nixon and others too many to mention give the book a greater breadth than is found in many biographies. The leading issues of those years, including the Atomic bomb, the end of World War II, relations with the Soviet Union, labor unrest, the economy, the Berlin Airlift, the Korean War and Sen. McCarthy are all shown from the White House perspective. The reader is given an insight into Truman's loves, likes, beliefs and hatreds. The narration of the 1948 election, both the nomination and election segments, are fascinating reading. Truman was left with plenty of scores to even, baggage which could have impaired his performance, had he allowed it.
Questions I have long entertained include "Why Truman?", "Was he better than people said?" and "How Well Did He Perform?" This book provided some answers but some questions remain unanswered. Why out of 300 Democratic governors and members of Congress did the Democratic Party select Truman for vice-president to an obviously dying FDR? That one remains a mystery. I now believe that he did a very good job for someone with his limitations, but that he was limited by his time and world view. Maybe as he said, there were a million Americans who were better qualified to be president than he was, but he had the job and did the best he could. That is the conclusion with which this book left me. Read, think about it yourself, and enjoy!
I think a perfect example of the juxtaposition of the two authors is how each describes how the Marshall Plan got its name. McCullough says Truman wanted to give General Marshall credit for his ideas; Ferrell says Truman knew a bill called the "Truman Plan" would never make it past the Republicans in Congress. Both statements are probably true, but each author has a different emphasis.
Ferrell provides good analysis on world and national events happening around Truman with some interesting digressions and observations, such as with Stalin, Korea and its aftermath, McArthur, etc.. In fact, it becomes more of a history book than a biography of Truman. Because of this emphasis, the reader does not discover the real Truman, what drove him, his intimate thoughts and fears, etc. Bess, Margaret, and Mama Truman are bit players in this bio, although there were core to Truman.
Truman's 1948 election win was indeed result of a miraculous 11th hour great burst of energy by the incumbent president, but Ferrell does not shrink from showing Truman as the typical politician, slinging a little mud and showing partisanship against the 80th Congress, which he lambasted publicly and complemented privately (they passed the "Truman doctrine" and were as good with New Deal legislation as their predecessors and successors).
Despite his reserved countenance and mousy presentation, Truman was his own man. He stood up to Pendergast, FDR, labor, big business, domineering cabinet members, and McArthur. He was the true moderate ... while busting the miners and railroad union strikes, threatening to draft them to stop the strike, he also fought "Big Steel" and vetoed Taft-Hartley. Ferrell sets straight Truman's record on civil rights giving it the credit it never really received. Truman was the true vote-your-conscience legislator. Ferrell closes with the last couple of years of the second administration, which were ripe with scandal, although not the result of improprieties from Truman himself.
If one can only read one Truman bio (and has the time to digest), read McCullough's tome. That author obviously reveres Truman, but is still a balanced account, and is more comprehensive and personal. That recommendation does not, however, discredit Ferrell, especially if one is more interested in the United States under Harry Truman than Truman the man.