Synopses & Reviews
The Pulitzer Prizeand#8211;winning biography of Harry S. Truman, whose presidency included momentous events from the atomic bombing of Japan to the outbreak of the Cold War and the Korean War, told by Americaand#8217;s beloved and distinguished historian.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;The life of Harry S. Truman is one of the greatest of American stories, filled with vivid charactersand#8212;Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bess Wallace Truman, George Marshall, Joe McCarthy, and Dean Achesonand#8212;and dramatic events. In this riveting biography, acclaimed historian David McCullough not only captures the manand#8212;a more complex, informed, and determined man than ever before imaginedand#8212;but also the turbulent times in which he rose, boldly, to meet unprecedented challenges. The last president to serve as a living link between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Trumanand#8217;s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur. Drawing on newly discovered archival material and extensive interviews with Trumanand#8217;s own family, friends, and Washington colleagues, McCullough tells the deeply moving story of the seemingly ordinary and#8220;man from Missouriand#8221; who was perhaps the most courageous president in our history.
"A gargantuan but surprisingly agile and spellbinding biography of the plain-speaking, plain-dealing Man from Missouri....Rich in detail, enthralling, and moving: a classic Presidential biography." Kirkus Reviews
"The principal achievement of this biography the most thorough account of Truman's life yet to appear is its honest and revealing portrait of the 'ordinary' man who became an extraordinary historical figure." Alan Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review
“McCullough takes us on a beautifully guided tour of recent history—a journey that is as much a celebration of American experience as it is a captivating portrait of the ordinary ‘man from Missouri’ who became an extraordinary figure in the Cold War world. Keeping Truman himself always vividly in the foreground, Mr. McCullough has written a stirring, masterly, thoroughly absorbing book.”
—Jean Strouse, author of Alice James: A Biography
"The book's re-creation of the 1948 presidential campaign, during which Newsweek's poll of 50 political writers predicted that the incumbent would lose the election to Thomas Dewey, is the most complete account of that surprise victory to date. The book is an impressive tribute to a man whose brisk cheerfulness and self-confidence were combined with a God-fearing humility; a great and good man who, in McCullough's opinion, was a great president." Publishers Weekly
"In this compelling saga of America's greatest common-man President, McCullough adds luster to an old-fashioned historical approach that is regaining respect: the sweeping narrative, filled with telling details and an appreciation of the role individuals play in shaping the world." Walter Isaacson, Time
"McCullough's life of Harry Truman is a Sandburg's Lincoln for the 1990s....No biography approaches the richness, depth, or grace of this one." Library Journal
"McCullogh is a master story teller whose considerable narrative skills have been put to exquisite use in re-creating the life and times of America's 33rd president." Robert Dallek, The Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Remarkable....[Y]ou may open it at any point and instantly become fascinated, so easy, lucid, and energetic is the narrative and so absorbing the sequence of events." The Economist
"Today [Truman] is firmly enshrined in the pantheon of American heroes, beyond reproach, and, judging from David McCullough's 1,000-page valentine, suitable only for veneration and framing....[McCullough] is less interested in peeling away character than in telling a tale. He devotes a full 100 pages to the election of 1948 and even twelve pages to the redecoration of the White House. The decision to create NATO, by contrast, gets two pages....Somewhere deep beneath the surface of Truman the icon lies another, more interesting Truman the man: angry, insecure, obstinate, ambitious, resentful, short-tempered, gutsy, determined, honest, shrewd, vain, and wily. But the key to that Truman will have to be found elsewhere than in the...pages of this genteel entertainment." Ronald Steel, The New Republic
"A warm, affectionate and thoroughly captivating biography....the most thorough account of Truman's life yet to appear. "andlt;BRandgt; -- Alan Brinkley, andlt;iandgt;The New York Times Book Reviewandlt;/iandgt;
"Meticulously detailed, elegantly written, tightly constructed, rich in revealing anecdotes and penetrating insights. It is, as its subject demands, biography on the grand scale."andlt;BRandgt; -- Jonathan Yardley, andlt;iandgt;The Washington Postandlt;/iandgt;
“Perhaps the highest tribute one can pay a biographer is to say that through him one comes to know his subject almost as though in person. In fostering the reader’s acquaintance with Harry Truman, not once does McCullough get in the way. This is in every respect a splendid work.”
—Myron A. Marty, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Since I’ve been in national politics, whenever I’ve been asked who my favorite political leader of the century is, I have always said Harry Truman…. David McCullough has always been a favorite of mine. The Truman biography is outstanding.”
—Jimmy Carter, The Boston Phoenix
“Exemplary and riveting…. The book is like a comfortable Victorian three-decker novel. There are two plots, a hero and heroine, and a glittering cast of characters ranging from Dean Acheson, Churchill and General Marshall to the Pendergasts and General MacArthur, as well as a splendid collection of Shakespearean clowns…. McCullough’s book will stand for a long time as the outstanding analysis of an extremely important subject: the greatness of Truman, and its role as an exogenous ‘cause’ in the history of his time.”
—Eugene V. Rostow, Times Literary Supplement, London
“An impressive and valuable study of Truman, worthy of its subject.”
—C. Vann Woodward, The New York Review
“Truman is biography as good as it gets, as absorbing and readable as it is voluminous. McCullough writes like a novelist, digs like a zealous reporter and puts things in perspective like the superb historian he is.”
—Lorenzo Carcaterra, People magazine
“This is the biography of President Harry S. Truman against which not only all other Truman biographies but probably all other presidential biographies will be measured. It is comprehensive, well reasoned, insightful and yet elegantly simple. It is written with a love for the subject that is contagious.”
—Steve Weinberg, The Kansas City Star
“Superbly researched and carried forward by McCullough’s narrative drive, Truman is endlessly readable. The Harry we were all wild about is re-created exactly as Harry was—feisty, preposterous, decisive, tireless, outrageous, but always honorable, always courageous, always guided by his inner gyroscope of conscience and character.”
—William Manchester, author of William Spencer Churchill: The Last Lion
A biography of the U.S. president explores Truman's brutal frontier childhood, his education, his dogged optimism, and his rise through the ranks of the Pendergast machine that controlled Missouri politics.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 1058-1082) and index.
About the Author
David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a and#8220;master of the art of narrative historyand#8221; and and#8220;a matchless writer.and#8221; He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, twice winner of the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nationand#8217;s highest civilian award.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Mr. McCulloughand#8217;s most recent book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, the #1 New York Times bestseller, has been called and#8220;dazzling,and#8221; and#8220;an epic of ideasand#8230;history to be savored.and#8221; His previous work, 1776, has been acclaimed and#8220;a classic,and#8221; while John Adams, published in 2001, remains one of the most praised and widely read American biographies of all time. More than three million copies are in print and it is presently in its eighty-second printing.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In the words of the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Yale, and#8220;As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character.and#8221;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Mr. McCulloughand#8217;s other books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, and Truman. His work has been published in ten languages and, in all, more than 9,500,000 copies are in print. As may be said of few writers, none of his books has ever been out of print.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Mr. McCullough is also twice winner of the prestigious Francis Parkman Prize, and for his work overall, he has been honored by the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award and the National Humanities Medal. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as the American Academy of Arts and Letters and has received forty-seven honorary degrees.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;In a crowded, productive career, he has been an editor, essayist, teacher, lecturer, and familiar presence on public televisionand#8212;as host of Smithsonian World, The American Experience, and narrator of numerous documentaries, including Ken Burnsand#8217;s The Civil War. His is also the narratorand#8217;s voice in the movie Seabiscuit.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;John Adams, the seven-part mini-series on HBO, produced by Tom Hanks and starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, was one of the most acclaimed and talked about television events of recent years.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;A gifted speaker, Mr. McCullough has lectured in all parts of the country and abroad, as well as at the White House. He is also one of the few private citizens to speak before a joint session of Congress.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Born in Pittsburgh in 1933, Mr. McCullough was educated there and at Yale, where he graduated with honors in English literature. He is an avid reader and traveler, and has enjoyed a lifelong interest in art and architecture. He is a devoted painter as well. Mr. McCullough and his wife, Rosalee Barnes McCullough, have five children and eighteen grandchildren.
Table of Contents
andlt;BRandgt;andlt;Bandgt;CONTENTSandlt;/Bandgt;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part One -- SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDERandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;1. Blue River Countryandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;2. Model Boyandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;3. The Way of the Farmerandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;4. Soldierandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part Two -- POLITICIANandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;5. Try, Try Againandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;6. The Senator from Pendergastandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;7. Patriotandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;8. Numbered Daysandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part Three -- TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITYandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;9. The Moon, the Stars, and All the Planetsandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;10. Summer of Decisionandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part Four -- MR. PRESIDENTandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;11. The Buck Stops Hereandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;12. Turning Pointandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;13. The Heat in the Kitchenandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;14. Fighting Chanceandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part Five -- WEIGHT OF THE WORLDandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;15. Iron Manandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;16. Commander in Chiefandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;17. Final Daysandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Part Six -- BACK HOMEandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;18. Citizen Trumanandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;ACKNOWLEDGMENTSandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;SOURCE NOTESandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;BIBLIOGRAPHYandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;INDEX
Reading Group Guide
Reader's Group Guide
1. Harry S. Truman was born on May 8, 1884. Nearly twenty years prior, Anderson Truman freed his five slaves, Hannah, Marge, and their three daughters in Leavenworth, Kansas. Later on, a keeper of the family would conclude that the Truman's never owned slaves. Since owning slaves was a relatively accepted practice in the Confederacy, why would someone think to rewrite history? How would you describe the turning point in the American social consciousness over slavery? Why do you think it took so long for someone to stand up to Jim Crow, even after the senseless killing of nine African-Americans? How does history influence what lives are valuable within the consciousness of a society? What other factors are at play?
2. Truman's boyhood was shaped by deeply instilled values. Often eager to please and a "bookworm" Truman was the perfect child. Even at such an early age, Truman displayed a love for politics. What values did Truman hold that would later make him an outstanding politician? A significant part of Truman's moral character was reinforced by his education. Do you think that a similar education should be taught in today's public schools? If so, how?
3. Truman was a farmer, even though farmers were discouraged to fight, he felt it was his duty to serve in the war in Europe. The president at the time, Woodrow Wilson said, "upon the farmers rested the fate of the country and thus the fate of the world." Why were farmers so highly regarded at the time? What professions or occupations are held in the same regard today? What professions or occupations should be the last to fight a war? Explain.
4. In Captain Truman's first confrontation with the Germans he proved brave and stood his ground when many retreated. Despite the inexperience of his infantry, not a single soldier was killed in the melee. In your opinion, what were the critical points in Truman's life that led him to becoming a great leader? What led him toward an interest in artillery and a fascination for power?
5. December 1933 marked the end of prohibition. Having been repeatedly passed over for a position in Congress, Truman became a bit disgruntled with politics. What is the correlation between the end of prohibition and the political climate of the time? Why do you think Truman was consistently overlooked in the political arena?
6. How would you describe Truman's reluctance to run for Vice President with President Franklin Roosevelt? What factors made Truman the prime Vice Presidential candidate for the election? Compare and contrast Roosevelt and Truman, what made them the ideal pair?
7. After the election in 1944, Truman has very little contact with President Roosevelt. In fact, when Roosevelt was meeting with Churchill and Stalin for his second Big Three Conference, Truman was attending parties and receptions. Do you think Truman was intentionally left out of the loop of the strategy overseas? Considering Roosevelt's health at the time why do you think Truman was not briefed on international affairs?
8. On April 12, 1945 Roosevelt dies of a cerebral hemorrhage. In the events immediately following his presidential oath, there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about whether he can handle the job. What other events leading up to this moment give you the impression that he lacks a confidence in himself that is required of a president?
9. What were the strongest factors contributing to Truman's victory in the election of 1948? Compare and contrast Truman and Dewey's campaign strategy.
10. When the steel industry was brought to a standstill due to labor strikes, Truman decides to take government control of the industry. A sincere advocate for labor unions, why did he feel that was the best decision? Why did his decision cause a devastating blow in Truman's popular opinion?
11. In your opinion, what were the greatest highlights of Truman's presidency? What progress did he make in settling The Cold War? What deeply held values carried him through seven years and nine months in office?
12. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III of Illinois remarked that Truman's life was "an example of the ability of this society to yield up, from the most unremarkable origins, the most remarkable men." What do you have to learn from Truman's life? Did Truman epitomize the American dream? Explain.