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Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower and a Dangerous Worldby William Lee Miller
Synopses & Reviews
Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, consecutive presidents of the United States, were midwesterners alike in many ways—except that they also sharply differed. Born within six years of each other (Truman in 1884, Eisenhower in 1890), they came from small towns in the Missouri–Mississippi River Valley—in the midst of cows and wheat, pigs and corn, and grain elevators. Both were grandsons of farmers and sons of forceful mothers, and of fathers who knew failure; both were lower middle class, received public school educations, and were brought up in low-church Protestant denominations.
William Lee Miller interweaves Truman’s and Eisenhower’s life stories, which then also becomes the story of their nation as it rose to great power. They had contrasting experiences in the Great War—Truman, the haberdasher to be, led men in battle; Eisenhower, the supreme commander to be did not. Between the wars, Truman was the quintessential politician, and Eisenhower the thoroughgoing anti-politician. Truman knew both the successes and woes of the public life, while Eisenhower was sequestered in the peacetime army. Then in the wartime 1940s, these two men were abruptly lifted above dozens of others to become leaders of the great national efforts.
Miller describes the hostile maneuvering and bickering at the moment in 1952–1953 when power was to be handed from one to the other and somebody had to decide which hat to wear and who greeted whom. As president, each coped with McCarthyism, the tormenting problems of race, and the great issues of the emerging Cold War. They brought the United States into a new pattern of world responsibility while being the first Americans to hold in their hands the awesome power of weapons capable of destroying civilization.
Reading their story is a reminder of the modern American story, of ordinary men dealing with extraordinary power.
From William Lee Miller, the highly regarded biographer of Abraham Lincoln, a riveting dual examination of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower that explores the similarities and equally striking differences of two remarkable men in the context of mid-twentieth-century American culture and politics.
Two Americans weaves together the life stories of Truman and Eisenhower, showing how these future presidents, born six years apart from each other in small farming towns, were emblematic of their Midwestern upbringings and their generation. Miller also shows how their markedly different life experiences during World War I and between the world wars would shape their choices and the roles they played in the politics of the time, as Truman became the quintessential politician, and Eisenhower, the thoroughgoing anti-politician. Their personalities come alive in vividly described scenes of their collaboration during the war-torn 1940s; their dual, but different, roles in bringing the war to an end and shaping the postwar world; their growing disapproval of each other; and, finally, in 1952, the hostile bickering and maneuvering that characterized the passing of presidential power from one to the other.
About the Author
William Lee Miller was a Scholar in Ethics and Institutions at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, and taught at Yale, Smith College, and Indiana University. His previous books include Arguing About Slavery, Lincoln’s Virtues, and President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman. He died in 2012.
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Biography » Presidents and Heads of State