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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.
Noted presidential biographer Dallek (An Unfinished Life) turns his skilled pen to the man from Independence. In brisk prose and with the confidence of his vast knowledge of the era, Dallek interprets the life of the simple man who, having unexpectedly and with little experience assumed the presidency when FDR died, surprised everyone by so skillfully shouldering huge burdens. In his day, that meant ending the war with Japan (by authorizing the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki), ordering American troops to repel the invasion of Korea, firing Douglas MacArthur and facing down the Soviets. It also meant protecting the New Deal from erosion, dealing with striking labor and taking unprecedented steps to desegregate the government and armed forces. Just listing these achievements makes clear why Dallek, like other historians, places Truman high on the list of American presidents. Like so many other biographies in the splendid American Presidents series, Dallek's little book is now the best starting point for knowledge of Truman's life and for an astute assessment of his career.