LUCIUS D. CLAY: An American Life by Jean Edward Smith

LUCIUS D. CLAY: An American Life

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A definitive and accessible biography of a soldier-statesman with a logistical flair. Smith (Germany Beyond the Wall, 1969) also edited Clay's papers. Best known for his years as Military Governor of Germany in the aftermath of WW II, Clay had a productively varied career before and after this consequential posting. The scion of a family active in Georgia and national politics, he graduated from West Point in 1918. Assigned to the Corps of Engineers, Clay was an original thinker, an attribute that rankled many superiors, one of whom branded him ""bolshevistic"" in a 1920 efficiency report. Climbing the promotional ladder nonetheless, he was called to Washington in 1940 to head FDR's emergency airport construction program. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Clay became the War Department's Director of Materiel. As the Army's youngest general, he proved a procurement wizard. While Clay failed to gain a much-desired combat command, he was tapped to run the military government of a defeated Germany. Celebrated as the father of the 1948 Berlin airlift, Clay played a crucial role in rebuilding the country's devastated economy and restoring its democratic institutions. Stepping down in 1949, he returned home and retired from the Army. Clay went on to top positions in business (as president of Continental Can) and finance (Lehman Brothers partner). A behind-the-scenes power in the Republican Party, he served as JFK's envoy to Berlin in 1961, answered RFK's call to raise ransom money for Bay of Pigs prisoners a year later, and handled other pro bono missions on a nonpartisan basis. With the cooperation of his subject as well as family members and associates, Smith (Polk Sci./Univ. of Toronto) offers a warts-and-all portrait that reveals Clay as a decidedly prickly character. The author also provides affecting glimpses of a stern and stubborn captain's surprisingly warm personal life. In brief, then, a comprehensive life story that does evenhanded justice to its admirable subject.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 1990
Publisher: Henry Holt