Harry S. Truman: The American Presidents Series: The 33rd President, 1945-1953 (American Presidents (Times))

Harry S. Truman: The American Presidents Series: The 33rd President, 1945-1953 (American Presidents (Times))
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The plainspoken man from Missouri who never expected to be president yet rose to become one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century

In April 1945, after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the presidency fell to a former haberdasher and clubhouse politician from Independence, Missouri. Many believed he would be overmatched by the job, but Harry S. Truman would surprise them all.

Few chief executives have had so lasting an impact. Truman ushered America into the nuclear age, established the alliances and principles that would define the cold war and the national security state, started the nation on the road to civil rights, and won the most dramatic election of the twentieth century—his 1948 “whistlestop campaign” against Thomas E. Dewey.

Robert Dallek, the bestselling biographer of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, shows how this unassuming yet supremely confident man rose to the occasion. Truman clashed with Southerners over civil rights, with organized labor over the right to strike, and with General Douglas MacArthur over the conduct of the Korean War. He personified Thomas Jefferson’s observation that the presidency is a “splendid misery,” but it was during his tenure that the United States truly came of age.

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Truman the communist, July 17, 2014
Harry Truman was the absolute worst president this country as ever had to endure. One of his first actions was to join the KKK in Missouri in order to become affiliated with the foremost political machine in the state. Once he made it to national office, he no longer considered himself a member as he did not need the KKK.
What actually makes him the worst president is that he gave all of eastern Europe to the Soviet Union at the Treaty of Yalta. Truman allowed his Soviet friend to imprison thousands of German soldiers in the gulag of Siberia. He also allowed his Soviet friends to choose numerous anti-communist leaders like Risto Ryti, the President of Finland during WWII, to be charged with made-up and false war crimes and be subsequently imprisoned for 10 years. Mr. Ryti's crime was to fight, along with the Germans, against the continued Soviet aggression toward Finland.

The allies had just fought a war in order to keep Europe from being conquered by Nazi Germany. However, Truman just gave all of eastern Europe to the Soviet Union without a shot being fired. His best military leader, General Patton saw the threat from the Soviets quite clearly. General Patton wanted to march straight through Germany to protect eastern Europe. Unfortunately, Truman, who knew absolutely nothing about military tactics, disagreed so venomously with Patton that he relieved Patton of his command. A few years later, the same scenario was played out again in the Korean conflict. General MacArthur, knowing that the war could not be won on the ground, wanted to bomb North Korea and China with 30 to 50 atom bombs. Again, Truman, who still knew absolutely nothing about military tactics, relieved General MacArthur of his command and the war was lost. Harry Truman was the reason the United States was involved in the cold war. If he had followed the good advice of his military experts, there would have been no Soviet Union, Communist China, Communist North Korea or Communist Cuban. Harry Truman was the Communists' best friend.

Good, but Incomplete, July 14, 2014
Enjoyed this read, as it certainly is not an apology for Truman's presidency. I would have appreciated information regarding Truman's history, his boyhood, his employment prior to politics and his rise to the Vice Presidency. This is all lacking. Not for the "deep" reader, but the writing is very easy to follow and informative. Also very objective. Truman had a rough presidency following in the footsteps of FDR, and this reflects that.

GREAT SERIES OF BOOKS, January 31, 2014
I read all the Biographies of the Presidents by way of the Presidential series. If you are going to do it, read John Hancock first because he was the first Continental Congress President. You will find as you read these how the lives of each President intertwined with the next. The job is a lineage.

Only The Cold War Stuff Saves This One From Being Really Bad, August 25, 2013
For the first three-quarters of this book, I considered to be the worst of the American Presidents series to this point. There was very little information about "Truman the man", instead focusing almost exclusively on administration procedures and almost a rote timeline of historical events.

But then, the Cold War (and Korean War) material really got interesting and saved this book from the utter doldrums. I don't know anything about author Robert Dallek, but I wonder if perhaps one of his specialties is Cold War research, as he does it so well. From that point on (although unfortunately only about 40 pages), this book becomes much more interesting and insightful about President Truman.

Overall, then, I would tend to steer people away from this Truman bio on the whole. It covers the Cold War and Communism portions of his presidency quite well, but other than that it doesn't do anything for Truman's early political career or his ending of World War II.

It's alright., May 11, 2013
Being a little ignorant I always like Truman since he was the only one who dared to drop "the bomb". Yet after reading this book he comes across as a whiny politician who throws a fit when he can't get his way. Plus not knowing when to hang it up and call it a career. Perhaps that is how he always was...

Introduction...Refresher...New Insights, October 27, 2012
In keeping with the purpose of the American Presidents Series, "Harry S. Truman" provides the reader with a quick overview of the life and career of its subject. In this work author Robert Dallek tells the unique story of Harry S. Truman in his usual, masterful fashion. The reader follows the Truman story from farmer to Captain, to failed haberdasher to County Judge, to senator to Vice-President to President. The against the odds life long love affair with Bess can be a model for many. Although relatively short, this book does not neglect the crucial issues in his life, such as the Pendergast connection, the uphill Senatorial elections, the vice-presidential selection, the succession of FDR, the ending of World War II and the transition to peace, the 1948 election, Korea, labor unrest, the decision not to run in 1952 and frustration and the recovery of his reputation in retirement.

For those unfamiliar with Truman, this is an excellent introduction. A reader steeped in Truman lore will find in it a quick refresher that presents new insights.

A President in Perilous Times, April 21, 2012
With the death of President Franklin Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Vice-President Harry Truman (1884 -- 1972) became the 33d president of the United States. Truman served through what would have been virtually the entirety of Roosevelt's fourth term and then won an upset victory over Thomas Dewey in 1948 to serve a term on his own. There was little in Truman's background that seemed to prepare him for this responsibility. The reasons for the ailing Roosevelt's selection of Truman remain obscure, as the two men were not on good terms. Truman faced many challenges while in office and, with the passage of time, appears to have met many of them. Robert Dallek offers an excellent overview and assessment of Truman's presidency in this short biography "Harry S. Truman"(2008) written as part of the American Presidents Series edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Willentz. Dallek has written extensively on the modern presidency, with books about Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon and Kissinger, among others.

Many of the books in this series devote substantial space the the pre-presidential life and career of their subjects. Dallek covers Truman's formative years in a dense, quick single chapter. Raised in rural Missouri, Truman entered politics through the notorious Pendergast machine and ultimately was elected and relected to the Senate before Roosevelt chose him for the vice-presidency. The brisk treatment of Truman's early life allows Dallek to focus the reader's attention where it belongs: on Truman's eventful and difficult presidency.

Besides using the extensive public record, Dallek draws upon Truman's letters, diary entries, off-the record comments, drafts and other documents of a private character to round out a portrayal of a complex individual and era. Truman was thrust unprepared into the presidency. At times, he appeared to waffle in an attempt to chart a middle course based on consensus. When he did so, Truman frequently pleased nobody. At his best, Truman led decisively. He tried to act, Dallek, argues, for the good of the country rather than for any interest group and he expected the same of others.

Besides the well-known statement that "the buck stops here", Dallek offers other Truman quotations that are more insightful. For example, in 1946, in the face of public opposition to price controls, Truman in an undelivered draft speech criticized the opposition for "following Mammon instead of Almighty God" and for having "gone over to the powers of selfishness and greed". After leaving the presidency, Truman expressed sympathy for President Herbert Hoover who, like Truman himself, had to face seemingly intractible difficulties. In considering his time in office, Truman wrote that leadership required "a president who can make up his own mind, who isn't afraid of controversy". Truman continued: "our country has never suffered seriously from any acts of the president that were truly intended for the welfare of the country; it's suffered from the inaction of a great many presidents when action should have been taken at the right time. He has to keep reminding people that a good president must do more than just believe in what he says -- he must act on what he believes."

Truman faced momentous foreign and domestic issues, and he was greatly unpopular during much of his time in office. Immediately upon taking office, Truman oversaw the surrender of Germany, and he made the decision to use the atomic bomb to end the war with Japan. He also authorized the development of the hydrogen bomb. In the face of division within his administration, Truman recognized the State of Israel. In the late 1940s, Truman became involved in a war in the quagmire of a war in Korea, where he was criticized by both the hawks and doves of the day. The Korean War led to Truman's climactic but justified decision to fire General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.

In domestic affairs, Truman supported a liberal agenda, including civil rights legislation and universal health insurance; but these proposals lacked Congressional support. Early in his presidency, Truman stood down the labor union leader John Lewis. In 1952, near the end of his tenure, Truman tried to seize control over the steel mills as a result of a labor dispute. The Supreme Court declared this attempt outside the scope of presidential power.

Truman is best-known for his actions in the face of Soviet agression following WW II. He developed the Marshall Plan for the relief of Europe. Over the course of his presidency, the "containment policy" for controling the spread of communism was developed and implemented. Trying to steer a course between isolationism and war, the containment policy substantially remained in place until the end of the Cold War. Dallek regards it as Truman's greatest achievement. Truman also had to face domestic issues regarding claimed communist influence, including among other things the red-baiting tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy.

When Truman left office, his administration faced severe criticism over Korea and over allegations of corruption and cronyism. His party had been in power for a long time. With the gaining of historical perpective, Truman's presidency has become highly regarded by many historians, including Dallek. His book shows a determined, honest, and gifted leader with flaws who tried to act in the public interest in a difficult time and in many crucial matters succeeded. Dallek's book is highly useful in thinking about Truman's presidency and about presidential leadership.

Robin Friedman

A gem by a master historian, October 17, 2010
Professor Robert Dallek's HARRY S. TRUMAN is an illuminating and exhilarating read both for those deeply steeped in the Truman story and for those to whom Truman is a little-known figure. Dallek employs politics as the underlying theme that traces both Truman's career and the volatility of an American public that, not infrequently, can swerve far off the course of common sense and of appreciation for the real-world complexities of both domestic change and international vital interests. Dallek's succinct essay provides me valuable insights into the current Tea Party aberration.

Biographer Dallek, who has exhibited keen insights into the personalities and politics of FDR, Nixon, JFK, and LBJ, and Reagan, brings similar acumen to assessing Truman-- the man, the politician, and the president. As a teenager, I stayed up late watching the 1948 election in which Truman confounded the professional pollsters. I am familiar with many of the two dozen books upon which Dallek depends for many of his core facts and anecdotes, including McCullough's TRUMAN, Hamby's MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A LIFE OF HARRY S. TRUMAN, George H. Gallup's THE GALLUP POLL, 1935-1971, and Merle Miller's PLAIN SPEAKING: AN ORAL BIOGRAPHY OF HARRY S. TRUMAN.

I have taught Truman in a college course for nearly twenty years. I am astonished by how accurately Dallek, in 153 pages, synthesizes many complex events. I feel humbled at how often Dallek provides a succinct factual and political insight that had escaped me in my 60+ years of learning about Truman. Most important, Dallek provides a comprehensive, credible assessment of a man and president who, too frequently, has been misunderstood and, years ago, trivialized.

Truman, during his initial decades, seemed a most unlikely person ever to earn a Time cover story, much less the American presidency. His early adult years could be considered a failure, except for his distinguished WW I military service. His love of history, biography, and politics commenced at an early age. His association with Tom Pendergast obliged him to engage in distasteful patronage, while maintaining his personal financial integrity. His improbable ascent from being `Pendergast's boy' in the U. S. Senate to the White House came from his political loyalty, his conscientious work ethic that, among other things, saved the U. S. billions in military contract waste, and from his own personal integrity.

As Dallek illustrates, Truman was no saint, except when it came to personal financial scrupulousness and to women--his wife and mother in law seemed as much comfort to him as was Mary to Abraham Lincoln. Truman often felt frustration. At times he confined this to his diary or to letters that he wrote and then never mailed (his strong hatreds included General McArthur and Richard Nixon). On occasion, when he expressed this anger publicly (his letter to the music critique who panned his daughter's singing is a classic example), Truman diminished his stature and effectiveness.

From an early age, Truman appreciated the nature of politics. During a troublesome period of his presidency, he wrote his daughter that an effective president needed to be "a liar" and a "double-crosser." [Were these qualities he had learned from observing FDR in action?] What comes through clearly in Dallek's account is Truman's basic decency. Despite his many downs and ups, Truman always had a capacity swiftly to get back on track. He also was a quick learner, as evidenced from how he handled his presidency, after the initial freshman months.

Dallek describes several of Truman's core visions. From the outset of his presidency, he sought to rejuvenate the New Deal program. Then, and after the 1948 election, he was stymied both by the mood of the country and by the conservatism of Congress. Several of his boldest moods were a mixture of politics and personal beliefs: the recognition of Israel; his fight against John L. Lewis and his veto of the Taft-Hartley bill, and his Executive Order desegregating the military.

Since Gallup Polls commenced in 1935, no president, including Nixon, has so consistently scored as low as Truman during office. Truman departure from the White House in 1953 was lamented by few. In a brief epilogue, Dallek describes why, nearly sixty years later, Truman is ranked among America's near-great presidents. His Cold War actions, in retrospect, are now generally applauded. Especially after Watergate, his personal integrity became warmly applauded. His concerns for the average American were addressed in subsequent legislation, from LBJ and, most recently, Obama. He was faced with some of the most vexing domestic and international problems that ever confronted an American president. Most historians now agree that Harry `The Buck Stops Here' Truman served his country uncommonly well.

HARRY S. TRUMAN is part of The American Presidents series, initially edited by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and now by Sean Wilentz. So far I have only read one other book in this series: Charles Peters' LYNDON B. JOHNSON, which I also found superb (see my Amazon review).

A brisk biography, September 23, 2010
Robert Dallek is a biographer of books on Lyndon B Johnson and John F Kennedy. In his latest offering he turns his attention to Harry S Truman.

Truman was in the unenviable position of taking the US Presidency in 1945 after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt was almost universally loved and one of the most respected men in the world and Truman was never going to live up to the expectations that Roosevelt had set.

This is an interesting book as it felt like Dallek wasn't trying that hard to write a good and interesting book. He makes the observation that Truman should be regarded as one of the great Presidents but doesn't do much to really back this claim up except to give a sometimes unflattering portrait of the man and his woeful approval rating.

The book is very short for one of Dallek's biographies as LBJ was 396 pages and JFK was 838 pages long yet Truman was 184 pages. One of the grest Presidents would deserve more than this.

My thoughts are that Truman was an average leader who didn't seem to get the respect of the public and really came off as ordinary in this biography. Seemed to be a nice man but not a great leader.

Worth a read if you want a snapshot biography of Truman but other than that, I would be looking at some other more extensive biography if you want to know more about him.

Bad reading of a good book, June 6, 2009
Unfortunately, the reader, William Dufris, is apparently too young to have been aware of who was who in this book produced by Macmillan Audio. On disc one, the name of Chiang Kai-Shek (and then Mrs. Chiang Kai-Shek) is repeatedly pronounced as Chey-ang...(as in Chey-enne). On disc two, one finds David Lilienthal's name turned into Liliental, followed by Bernard Baruch, pronounced as Baroosh each time. After that, I couldn't continue -- the audio version was ruined for me.

I am surprised that no one at Macmillan Audiobook cared enough about the production of Dallek's book to either encourage the use of a name pronunciation dictionary for someone apparently too young to remember those major people on the world scene, or didn't check to see if Mr. Dufris knew what he was doing before letting him go on with the reading. As a commercial audiobook firm, Macmillan has fallen down on its responsibility to the listening public.