A Life of Harry S. Truman
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A scholar of American history builds on previous biographies of Harry Truman to offer her own interpretation of his career.

Donald (Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt, 2007), the former editor in chief of Harvard University Press, was fascinated by Truman's ascendancy to the presidency near the end of World War II. However, she felt that previous biographies (e.g., David McCullough’s Truman and Alonzo L. Hamby’s A Man of the People), despite their overall excellence, failed to emphasize certain of his character qualities. Compared to other Truman biographers, Donald emphasizes the psychology of the man to a greater extent and the outward actions of the man to a lesser extent. She delves into the countervailing influences of Truman's strong mother and weaker father; the future president's despair at spending a decade on the family farm, trying but failing to make it prosperous; the leadership qualities he developed during World War I; his epic love for his wife and total devotion to his daughter; his ability to maintain his personal integrity while struggling with the corrupt political machine of Kansas City; and the forces behind his decision to initiate a nuclear attack on Japan to end WWII. Donald argues that Truman's psychological state while a senator from Missouri opens vital vistas on his performance as an accidental president, and her most searing insight involves Truman's loyalty to family, to political allies and to soldiers with whom he served. That intense loyalty, writes the author, led him to make some personally and politically harmful decisions.

A skillful psychobiography by an empathetic scholar.

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-465-03120-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2012


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