Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Another reason Harry Truman's my favourite President

The day FDR died Harry Truman suddenly had the biggest job in the world thrust upon him – at the very moment when that job was hardest to do.

Hitler was still alive, the war in Europe wasn't over, Stalin was seeing what he could get away with, there were senior people in Washington who thought Germany should be reduced to an agrarian economy, the war in Japan was looking as though it might cost a million American lives and this guy from Missouri who looked like a small-town haberdasher, which is what he had been, was suddenly behind the desk of the man who had been widely regarded, both in the USA and abroad, as the saviour of the world.

Over the next three months he had to make the most momentous decisions any President has ever had to make: to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, to back democratic governments in Europe, to extend the credit needed to rebuild a continent, to walk into a room at Potsdam with Stalin and Churchill, neither of whom knew him from Adam, and tell them how things were going to be.

It's a story I never get tired of reading. This new book has lots of detail I didn't know. When Truman got back to the White House at the end of those three months this is what he did.


  1. Meanwhile, 73 years later, the current President is tweeting today about "crazy Joe Biden" and boasting that the former Vice President "would go down fast and hard, crying all the way" in a physical confrontation with Trump. Could Harry Truman ever have imagined it would come to this?

  2. My favourite President is Gerald Ford but I can see how it is Truman, a turn-your-hand-to-anything mid-westerner. So much about post WW2 USA can be learned from great biographies of its Presidents and the USA has no shortage of wonderful historians.

    I'm chomping at the bit for the final volume of Robert Caro's bio of Lyndon Johnson. I also, always, recommend David Halberstam's The 'Fifties to anyone interested.

  3. I too am looking forward to the fifth volume of the Johnson biography the way I once looked forward to a new Jackson Browne album.

  4. I've never enjoyed biographies or autobiographies. Maybe I've just chosen the wrong ones but it seems they take 300 pages to get to the significant part of the subject's life by which time I've lost interest.

    Can't imagine reading a 5 volume biog.

    1. I suppose that a great deal of a biography's appeal lies in the story that is told. Biographies of retired footballers are generally dire; perhaps it's because so few of them can write. It's the same with many a small screen star; everything that is interesting about them is on the screen.

      I picked up volume 2 of Caro's LBJ bio and it kept me up till two and three in the morning. It's a forty year plus project and Caro has used a team of researchers/students and many of those who knew LBJ were still alive when the project started.

      There's also something to be said about the American plain style of writing which still infuses much of contemporary writing. It just flows along and the reader is not left with the notion that there's much left 'on the cutting room floor'.

      Mark Lewisohn's recentish first volume of his Beatles bio was published in an 800+ word edition and also - if 800+ words are not enough - a 1700+ word volume. I'm not sure what was left out; I'll probably buy it at some point.

      May I suggest buying a used paperback edition of The Path To Power. If you like it then you are hooked and clearly done for:if you don't like it then you are only a few quid down and you can give it away.