Jean Edward Smith
In his magisterial bestseller FDR, Jean Edward Smith gave us a fresh, modern look at one of the most indelible figures in American history. Now this peerless biographer returns with a new life of Dwight D. Eisenhower that is as full, rich, and revealing as anything ever written about America’s thirty-fourth president. As America searches for new heroes to lead it out of its present-day predicaments, Jean Edward Smith’s achievement lies in reintroducing us to a hero from the past whose virtues have become clouded in the mists of history.
Here is Eisenhower the young dreamer, charting a course from Abilene, Kansas, to West Point, to Paris under Pershing, and beyond. Drawing on a wealth of untapped primary sources, Smith provides new insight into Ike’s maddening apprenticeship under Douglas MacArthur in Washington and the Philippines. Then the whole panorama of World War II unfolds, with Eisenhower’s superlative generalship forging the Allied path to victory through multiple reversals of fortune in North Africa and Italy, culminating in the triumphant invasion of Normandy. Smith also gives us an intriguing examination of Ike’s finances, details his wartime affair with Kay Summersby, and reveals the inside story of the 1952 Republican convention that catapulted him to the White House.
Smith’s chronicle of Eisenhower’s presidential years is as compelling as it is comprehensive. Derided by his detractors as a somnambulant caretaker, Eisenhower emerges in Smith’s perceptive retelling as both a canny politician and a skillful, decisive leader. Smith convincingly portrays an Eisenhower who engineered an end to America’s three-year no-win war in Korea, resisted calls for preventative wars against the Soviet Union and China, and boldly deployed the Seventh Fleet to protect Formosa from invasion. This Eisenhower, Smith shows us, stared down Khrushchev over Berlin and forced the withdrawal of British, French, and Israeli forces from the Suez Canal. He managed not only to keep the peace—after Ike made peace in Korea, not one American soldier was killed in action during his tenure—but also to enhance America’s prestige in the Middle East and throughout the world.
Domestically, Eisenhower reduced defense spending, balanced the budget, constructed the interstate highway system, and provided social security coverage for millions who were self-employed. Ike believed that traditional American values encompassed change and progress.
Unmatched in insight, Eisenhower in War and Peace at last gives us an Eisenhower for our time—and for the ages.
Guest Review Below the Line
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and detailed, but also very entertaining – 5* December 24, 2011
I have read Jean Smith’s biographies of Presidents Grant and FDR and liked them a lot. I was therefore very anxious to read his Eisenhower biography, and I was not disappointed. The book is quite detailed but is also very enjoyable reading and not the least bit academic or dry. I recommend this book because it provides a comprehensive portrait of a man whose talents are often overlooked. Smith clearly shows that Eisenhower’s rise to prominence was due to hard work, garnering superior fitness reports that carried him to jobs with ever increasing responsibilities and visibility. To be sure, Eisenhower had many mentors who protected him and arranged for his appointments to serve under a previous or a current army chief of staff (Generals Pershing, MacArthur, and Marshall). Working for these men was indispensable for Eisenhower’s career, but even more importantly was their recognition of the superior work that he did for them. The best way to describe Smith’s picture of Eisenhower is to repeat the opinion of a fellow general, cited in the book: Eisenhower was “affable, energetic, dynamic, zealous, original, loyal, capable, dependable, and outstanding.”
Eisenhower has been the subject of numerous excellent biographies, so it is reasonable to ask if this one has any characteristics that make it stand out. In my opinion, it is very objective and treats Eisenhower’s failings in detail as well as his successes. Smith discusses Eisenhower’s marital problems that first surfaced with the death of his infant firstborn son, but which were ongoing. Smith also discusses, in considerable detail, Eisenhower’s relationship with Kay Sommersby. Other biographers touch on this (for instance, Stephen Ambrose in his one volume condensation of his two volume “official” biography and Michael Korda, in his biography) but only in passing, whereas Smith sheds considerable light on this subject and provides a lot of support for the contention that their relationship was a deep and loving one. Smith is also somewhat critical of Eisenhower’s military performance, particularly during the North African Campaign, which led to his being “kicked upstairs” to deal with political problems and inter-allied conflicts. Smith spends a lot of time explaining why Eisenhower’s talents as a politician were important in holding a coalition of nations together, and why he and not General Marshall was chosen to become the Supreme Commander of the European theatre. This book also contains a lengthy chapter on Eisenhower’s tenure as President of Columbia University, which is only covered in a handful of pages by Ambrose and Korda. This chapter contains a brief discussion of events surrounding Eisenhower’s failure to run for President of the US in 1948.
The final third of this book is concerned with Eisenhower’s election and tenure as president. In many ways, this is the most interesting part of the book because it discusses in considerable detail Eisenhower’s impact on events that have sometimes been forgotten. Smith shows Eisenhower to be a president who exercised sound judgment and held fast to his convictions, and as president acted decisively to: (1) end the war in Korea through an armistice instead of seeking a victory that might have required the use of nuclear weapons, (2) demonstrate his political acumen by getting his appointments past hostile conservative Republicans, (3) used indirect support for those who opposed Senator Joe McCarthy, but used more direct support to oppose the Bricker Amendment, which would have made treaties subject to continuing congressional review, (4) refuse to aid the French at Dien Bien Phu when this might also have required the use of nuclear weapons, (5) support CIA-led coups in Iran and Guatemala, which have led to continuing problems for the US, (6) force the French and British to leave Suez, (7) send federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce court-ordered desegregation of public schools.
Smith shows that it was in the area of civil rights where Eisenhower’s contributions have largely been forgotten. Contrary to what is generally believed, Smith shows that he did not consider his appointment of Earl Warren to be chief justice of the Supreme Court to be his greatest mistake, and he did not secretly oppose integration. Smith provides documentary evidence, which shows that quite to the contrary, Eisenhower: (1) enforced Truman’s desegregation of the armed forces by actually eliminating the numerous segregated units, (2) desegregated the schools on military bases before the Supreme Court ruled on Brown v. Board of Education, (3) desegregated veterans’ facilities and other facilities operated by the government, (4) desegregated the southern navy yards, and (5) appointed federal judges who made the civil rights programs of Kennedy and Johnson possible.
Smith depicts Eisenhower as a man who used common sense to solve problems, as a man of principle who often seemed aloof, and as President, one who seemed not to be doing much more than playing golf, but in actuality was directing things so subtly that his actions were unappreciated. The book quotes historian Garry Wills – “Eisenhower was not a political sophisticate, he was a political genius.” In addition, he was a military man who warned against the military industrial complex and was a warrior who hated war.
This is a book that is highly relevant to our times as it speaks to questions of balanced budgets, military appropriations, our relationship with Russia and China, and to the origin of our conflict with Iran. This is a fine book, one that I hardily recommend to anyone interested in history or in reading a well-written non-fiction book.