HARRY S. TRUMAN AND THE MODERN AMERICAN PRESIDENCY by Robert H. Ferrell
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HARRY S. TRUMAN AND THE MODERN AMERICAN PRESIDENCY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

If Robert Ferrell's unpretentious biography served merely to remind us that Harry Truman spent four years working in banks, eleven years farming, and only three (not-entirely-successful) years as a haberdasher, it would probably be worth its modest, Library-of-American-Biography price. But U. of Indiana historian Ferrell, editor of Truman papers, has information, firm views, and purpose--even the knowledgeable won't be bored. One purpose is to suggest why Truman, totally unprepared for the presidency, made a successful president. Another, in the aftermath, is to consider why his presidency was undervalued at the time. As Ferrell auspiciously notes, these are questions ""that confront the student of history."" His answers carry conviction because he frequently calls Truman wrong. HST made the A-bomb decision ""with insufficient forethought""; the H-bomb decision was ""probably"" (per recent arguments) ""a mistake"" as well. He imprudently let Churchill give the ""iron curtain"" speech, then (in consternation) denied foreknowledge; his own speech enunciating the Truman Doctrine (re containment) ""was too strenuous, too hard-line."" Even threatening to draft striking coal miners was a dangerous, rights-infringing precedent; and as for Truman's loyalty boards, ""it is difficult to believe that such a program could have gotten under way in the United States in the twentieth century."" This is not a matter of warts-and-all: Ferrell's firmness powers the book; it implies that there are rights and wrongs; and it suits HST--who, Ferrell avows (along with others), stood up for what he believed. (The moderate, just assessment: ""The president was a hardworking, basically cheerful man, a believer in his country. When a problem arose, he solved it if he could."" On important occasions, he did.) Other notable features: an engaging, unsentimental anecdotal chapter on Truman in retirement; three analytical wrap-ups--on the HST presidency, his strengths, his reputation; and an extensive, chatty review of primary sources and secondary material. A model life, in some respects, for students--and a compact life with individuality for anyone interested.

Pub Date: Feb. 18th, 1983
ISBN: 0673393372
Publisher: Little, Brown