The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of An Ordinary Man, 1945-1953
The Trials of Harry S. Truman--the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years—is a work of discovery, revealing a man far more complex than the customary "give 'em hell" provincial who, at age sixty, suddenly inherited the White House. More than six years of archival research and travels to Missouri, Washington, Berlin, and Korea, meant revisiting, and reassessing some of Truman's most critical decisions—from giving the order to use the world's first atomic bomb to seizing the nation's steel mills to the hasty call to support a tragic, "limited" war in Korea. It's also an intimate portrait of a man torn between his upbringing (and Confederate ancestry) and what he saw as a duty to support equal rights for African Americans.
Truman's nearly eight years in office also opens a bright window onto mid-20th-century America, and a vibrant cast of characters, including rivalrous politicians; a generation of powerful columnists; the new breed of atomic scientists, and the commanding figures of World War II, along with such personalities as Senator Joe McCarthy, Billy Graham, and Mickey Spillane—all in an unsettled time of a federal "loyalty" program and rumors that Adolf Hitler was living in Argentina. One never forgets that this self-described common man, born in the Nineteenth Century, set the nation on a course that, for better or worse, continues into the Twenty-First.
Praise for The Trials of Harry S. Truman:
A "beguiling new biography….Frank gives us this ebullient, often cantankerous man in full."
—James Traub, The New York Times
"[Frank's] revisionism is meant to illuminate, not debunk; he believes that a more realistic account of Truman's limits will lead to a deeper appreciation of his greatness. …. With a new kind of Cold War heating up and the foibles of our chief executives an ever more intense matter of scrutiny and concern, [the] book is timely in ways he couldn't have imagined when he started it. … rigorously researched, thought-provoking and, not least, a pleasure to read.
–Frank Gannon, The Wall Street Journal
"Frank is a brave writer for having taken on a subject that historian David McCullough had handled so exhaustively in Truman, his 1992 Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of the 33rd president. So it is a pleasure to report that Frank's courage is to be applauded, since he has written a remarkably engaging narrative of what Harry Truman was like as president and the challenges he faced. Truman had a more eventful presidency than most occupants of the Oval Office have had, and Frank views the man and his virtues and flaws with an acute empathy that never slips into sugary sentimentality. Nothing tested Truman as much as the Korean War did, and what Dwight Eisenhower, his successor, wrote at the time bears a sobering truth: 'If his wisdom could only equal his good intent!!"
"Thoughtfully explores the unlikely triumph of one of the nation's most consequential presidencies.,,, Frank's prowess as a storyteller brings to life the major episodes of Truman's tenure while drawing an intimate portrait of his internal struggles as he clashed with foreign and domestic rivals and led a group of heavyweights that came to establish a winning blueprint for the Cold War."
—Michael Bobelian, The Washington Post
"The Trials of Harry Truman" looks with refreshing directness at both Truman's strengths and weaknesses – readers seeking an even-handed account of the major issues in his administration need look no further than this solid volume."
—Steve Donoghue, Christian Science Monitor
""Frank is drawn to the human side of this story: the backroom sniping, the jockeying for position, the personality clashes, and the diplomatic pageantry that produced the postwar world order…. [He] recognizes a precious gift to the biographer: a subject who, miraculously and generously, takes the time to write down his innermost feelings and thoughts… For all the things that happened during Truman's Presidency, Frank argues, the events that were averted deserve to be part of the historical discussion, too. Above all, the world did not descend into a nuclear-armed Third World War, a prospect that loomed over every minute of Truman's Presidency and pervades every page of Frank's book."
—Beverly Gage, The New Yorker
"Truman made his mark not just in the organization-building… that helped transform the global order. He also broke political norms. Where and why he did is worth revisiting during a post-Trump period when Americans are reexamining the guardrails meant to guide public life and presidential power—and when the future of the country's political parties seems more fraught than ever."
—John Dickerson, The Atlantic
"Movingly depicted... Frank has made a case for a man who, when given the responsibility of the entire country, was able to thread many needles, based on personal confidence, trust in the right people, and healthy relationships with family and friends."
—The Los Angeles Review of Books
"In this illuminating chronicle, Frank shows readers how this remarkable midwestern haberdasher surmounted his handicap, leaving his mark on the nation and the world ... Frank impressively weaves together the narrative of Truman's maturation as international statesman with the equally engrossing story of his growth as American politician, shedding his own prejudices as he desegregates the military and presses for federal anti-lynching laws. Frank not only illuminates the global and domestic difficulties surrounding Truman, but also probes the complex character of the man himself—a give-'em-hell combativeness, which carried Truman to unexpected triumph over Dewey in 1948, set against a vulnerability evinced in his grief at the passing of his aged mother. A compelling historical inquiry."
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist
"Pitch-perfect…. clear-eyed, wise, and compassionate—in a word, humane. Jeffrey Frank's lovely book lets us see up close how Harry Truman's decisions, sometimes considered, sometimes not, laid the foundation for the kind of world power the United States is today."
—Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Free World and The Metaphysical Club
"Just terrific—with a perfect tone, and a perfect understanding of Truman's strengths and shortcomings. Frank has managed this with emphases on sociology, culture, and a profound and deep understanding of the human struggle."
"A remarkable window into America's great Cold War president. Because Frank is such a sublime writer, his heroic recounting of the Truman presidency is dazzling. This is intellectual biography at its absolute finest."
—Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
"Frank's talent as a novelist is on display here. With this refreshing and much needed reexamination of Truman's life, Frank establishes himself as a source of value to any reader interested in mid-twentieth century America."
—Richard Lawrence Miller, author of Truman: The Rise to Power and Lincoln and His World
"A fresh, deeply human perspective... Frank's sensitive, empathetic portrait gave me a new appreciation for this innately decent, caring man, who, for all his stumbles, was committed to making a better world for those who lived in it."
—Lynne Olson, New York Times bestselling author of Citizens of London and Madame Fourcade's Secret War
"An intimate, vivid portrait of our 33rd president and his times…. a chance to rediscover one of the most improbable and compelling figures in American history."
—Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Liberation Trilogy and The British Are Coming
"Frank's lively account of Truman's time in office evokes a pivotal time with vivid, carefully-gleaned detail. And it's an appropriate book for this political moment, when a lot of us are hoping that an ordinary man will turn out to be an extraordinary president."
—Adam Hochschild, author of ten books, including Rebel Cinderella
"Massively researched, engagingly written… an intimate, revealing history of a time, and of a president, whose straightforward persona masked a more complicated, sometimes tortured man during a truly extraordinary period."
—Robert L. Messer, author of The End of an Alliance: James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman and the Origins of the Cold War
"An absorbing reexamination of [his] two-term presidency. … provides further depth and nuance to the character dynamics of Truman and his administration…..A well-researched, engagingly human portrait of this complex mid-20th-century political leader."
"Frank astutely analyzes the geopolitics Truman confronted while conveying his character in elegant, evocative prose… The result is a discerning portrait of a president who achieved a lot just by muddling through."
"[E]ngaging and insightful...In the first detailed account of the Harry Truman presidency in almost 30 years, Jeffrey Frank engagingly considers Truman's most controversial decisions."
—Roger Bishop, Bookpage
The Trials of Harry S. Truman is a selection of the History Book Club. It is also available as an audio book, read by the Earphones Award-winning narrator Fred Sanders, known for his work on the Broadway stage, film, and television.
Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage
Ike and Dick is an intimate exploration of the nearly twenty-year personal and public relationship between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. It follows the two men from their first encounter, in the summer of 1950, through Eisenhower's two, crisis-filled presidential terms. to the Vietnam-era, the marriage of Eisenhower's grandson, David, and Nixon's daughter Julie, and Nixon's election just four months before Eisenhower's death. (An epilogue covers the scandals that wrecked Nixon's presidency.) Ike and Dick is based on years of research and fresh interviews with dozens of men and women who knew and worked with both men, including members of the Eisenhower and Nixon families.
Praise for Ike and Dick
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
One of the Best Books of 2013: Slate-- Staff Picks
One of Jay Strafford's 10 favorite books of 2013: Richmond Times-Dispatch
One of 2013's Best Books: Kansas City Star
Books of the Year: The Spectator (Australia)
One of the Eight Best Books for Potus Geeks in 2013
"...an elegant example of how pleasurable political history can be when written by a skilled teller of fictional tales who has a careful reporter's respect for facts. It is top-drawer as political history, unusually well written, and stuffed with forty pages of notes providing sources for an extraordinary variety of information. It is also an entertaining human tale of generational conflict, filled with the elements that enliven popular novels and soap operas."
--Russell Baker, in The New York Review of Books.
"One of the best books ever written about Richard Nixon…Ike and Dick shows how much life remains in artfully straightforward narrative history. It's done here with an old-fashioned sharpness of eye and a springiness of phrasing."
--Thomas Mallon, The New Yorker
"Ike and Dick" is a highly engrossing political narrative that skillfully takes the reader through the twisted development of a strange relationship that would help shape America's foreign and domestic agenda for much of the 20th century."
--Joe Scarborough, The New York Times Book Review (Front Page review)
"Engrossing…worthwhile…. At the heart of Ike and Dick are marvelously cringe-inducing anecdotes that capture an awkward relationship that improved over time without ever truly blooming."
--Jonathan Martin, The Wall Street Journal
"Frank constructs a marvelous account of political history as well as astute portraits of the two men….the rich, inside-politics mix of rumor and maneuver in which connoisseurs of political history love to marinate."
"Jeffrey Frank knows a good story when he sees one, or sees two….Ambition and hesitation, intrigue and indifference, scheming and serenity, infuse 31 chapters. His saga evokes the seamy underside of the sunny 1950s…..[A] detailed and charming history."
--Martin F. Nolan, The San Francisco Chronicle
"Frank paces this deeply researched history like a novel, lending freshness even to well-told tales. ….. an absorbing and worthwhile book."
----(Cleveland) Plain Dealer
"The elegant writing in this book reflects Frank's skills as a political novelist and is several cuts above most historians' prose. Both Eisenhower and Nixon appear here as three-dimensional characters."
---Geoffrey Kabaservice, The New Republic
"…that rare and understatedly important book that suggests a subtle rethink, offering both the casual reader and the student of history a surprisingly candid and humane look at the national villain-in-chief, Richard Nixon. And just as significant, Frank helps to round out our portrait of Nixon's venerable political mentor, the equally wily and fickle President Dwight D. Eisenhower….[A] carefully argued and nuanced book."
--Charleston Post and Courier
"...a gracefully written, sober, and judicious book that manages to humanize both of its subjects while capturing the strange amorality of politics."
"Jeffrey Frank is a nimble writer with a clear-eyed understanding of power….[the book] … reveals the nuances of the complex relationship between Nixon and the man under whom he served as vice president, Dwight Eisenhower, nuances that should resonate with Republicans who are waging an internecine struggle over the future of their party…. thriller-like intensity."
"Jeffrey Frank sorts through these layers of angst and irony with a skillful hand and a sense of empathy for the troubled man at his book's center."
"Frank's exploration of the relationship is deeply researched, through extensive reading and interviews with some 70 people who were involved in the political scene of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon presidential years. It's also well-written, a straightforward narrative that moves steadily through time on a story arc that's studded with insider perspectives and with intimate and sometimes excruciating anecdotes."
"This is superlative, compelling, can't-put-it-down history. Jeffrey Frank is an elegant writer, with a novelist's eye; the relationship between Eisenhower and Nixon, in all its complexity and weirdness, is a treasure chest that he unpacks brilliantly. This is the perfect time for us to reconsider the trajectory of the Republican Party in the late 20th century, and this book is a perfect way to do it."
--Joe Klein, Time columnist
"To read this book is to be reminded of Richard Nixon's singularly tortured character in all its cussedness and genius—and to learn anew of Dwight Eisenhower's capacity for shrewd political cunning and often insouciant human coldness. Ike and Dick deeply textures our understanding of two outsized American personalities...and it's full of delicious gossip, too."
-- David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Freedom from Fear
"The mating of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon was one of the strangest and most fateful in all of American political history. With psychological acuity and perfect pitch for the not-so-distant past, Jeffrey Frank has captured the story beautifully. Ike and Dick will surprise and greatly entertain as well as enlighten you."
--Sean Wilentz, author of The Rise of American Democracy
"Ike and Dick is enthralling, innovative, and judicious. It rivets the reader. Jeffrey Frank knows Washington and national politics inside and out. He employs numerous interviews and recently declassified information superbly. In critical respects, and by using their own words with meticulous care, he peels away layers of disingenuousness from both men. The cast of characters, including indiscreet aides, ranges from bright red to shady gray."
--Michael Kammen. Pulitzer Prize-winning author and past president of the Organization of American Historians.
"Throughout, Frank highlights the major events of the Eisenhower presidency, the following presidential elections and beyond, filtering them effectively through the lens of the Eisenhower-Nixon dynamic. The author does a fine job delineating the complex personalities of both men, and he provides novelistic touches befitting his background. … A well-researched and -written history that will satisfy both Eisenhower and Nixon aficionados."
"This deeply researched account, which includes more than 60 author-conducted interviews, is the only complete book treatment of the enduring yet shaky political connection that guided the United States through some of the most critical decades of the Cold War.
"A novelist and former editor at the New Yorker and the Washington Post, Frank turns his attention to history with a very good result.... Nixon remains a chilly character, but Frank argues convincingly that he was intelligent, shrewd, and, regarding civil rights, more liberal than Eisenhower."
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Ike and Dick is a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and the History Book Club. It is also available as an audio book, produced by Tantor Audio and read by the award-winning Arthur Morey.