TRUMAN by Roy Jenkins


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A short, but loving biography of our 33rd President, by Englishman, Member of Parliament, and recently founder of the Social Democratic Party, Jenkins, previously author of several English political biographies. Truman, often disparagingly painted as a tool of Missouri political boss Tom Pendergast, is here portrayed rather as a scrupulously honest man who called the shots as he saw them and, to his credit, most often called them right in his presidency. (Jenkins tells of one occasion, in defense of Truman's independence, when he bucked Pendergast on supporting a candidate for local office.) Despite his concern to show Truman as one of our near-great presidents, Jenkins is fair in pointing out his flaws. These are usually in the realm of misjudgements, for example in his selections for some major cabinet positions (he had a dreadful spell of luck in his three choices for Secretary of Defense). Truman also doesn't exactly shine in his flip-flopping over his successor candidate in 1952. Jenkins sticks pretty much to well-trodden facts. For instance, he reasserts the conventional story of Truman's ignorance of the atom bomb upon his assumption of the highest office. Dan Kurzman, however, has recently dispelled that notion, with well-documented facts that Truman had, indeed, been made privy to the Manhattan Project during his vice-presidency. Also, in his discussion of Truman's celebrated veto of the Taft-Hartley Bill, later overridden by Congress, Jenkins makes no mention of the fact that, in conversations with Senator Vandenberg, Truman had shrewdly saved face for them both by telling him that he must veto the bill to satisfy his constituency, but that it was crucial to the nation that Vandenberg make certain that the veto be overridden. It still isn't certain from this reading whether Truman was great or merely lucky. His two greatest monuments were the Marshall Plan and NATO--the one was basically George Marshall's idea, and the second was inevitable following upon the heels of WW II. Jenkins' work will help to tip the scales slightly in Truman's direction, though.

Pub Date: May 28th, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row