One of the most favored subjects of eminent historians receives yet another lofty tribute as the prescient general and “most successful” president of the 20th century after Franklin Roosevelt.
Having written biographies of FDR, John Marshall and Lucius Clay, Smith (History/Columbia Univ.; FDR, 2007, etc.) is amply qualified to reshape the life of the late, great president, whom the author calls an “enigma.” The making of the leader seems to interest Smith most, and he breezily tracks Eisenhower’s (1890–1969) early years as the third of seven sons born to a brooding, difficult father who finally found work at a creamery in Abilene, Kan., and a vivacious, energetic mother whose confidence in her sons’ abilities propelled them to prosper in the world. Smith dutifully points out a few weaknesses in the general’s legend, such as that he lied about his age when applying to West Point, and participated with alacrity in General MacArthur’s shameful clearing of the Bonus Army encampment in Washington, July 1932. Popular, capable, ambitious and a hard worker if not a brilliant mind, Ike was furious that World War I had passed him by, relegated to the peacetime Army—although he leapfrogged the ranks while ingratiating himself wit the major generals of the day. Although he had never led an active command, he was swept into General Marshall’s War Plans Division of the Army after Pearl Harbor. Smith examines Eisenhower’s leadership in the European theater, concluding that he was a master at consensus and delegating, offering the appearance of casual confidence; however, as a field commander his understanding was “abstract and academic.” As president, he capably handled the Suez crisis and sending troops into Little Rock, kept the country out of war and would not abandon his vice president Richard Nixon. He ended his presidency with the still-ringing warning about “the military-industrial complex.”
A straight-shooting, comforting account—though not super-enlightening, considering the mountain of previous Ike bios.