Confession: I just picked the shortest biography of Eisenhower that I could find. It’s so bad, right!? I had just read giant books on FDR and Truman and intend to read a big, huge JFK book too so I just wanted a break. I even knew that this wasn’t a traditional biography (which I try to stick to) but just didn’t have it in me to read the “good” bio of Eisenhower because it was long. So there ya go. Confession over.
So, like I said, this isn’t a traditional biography. It is mainly focused on Eisenhower’s presidency, specifically his international policy during that time. So it seems like a fairly narrow focus, but the author did a great job of filling the reader in on Ike’s history by weaving it in through thoughts on the decisions he made as president. Same with domestic policy- there wasn’t TONS here, but there was enough that I walked away with a base knowledge.
There was ZERO on ballot casting to get Eisenhower nominated and Thank God for that. After this many presidential biographies, those chapters always make me want to poke hot needles in my eyes.
I think that through this narrow-ish scope, Evan Thomas did a fantastic job of painting a picture of Eisenhower not just as a politician or a war hero but as a man. There was just so much depth of character and emotion that I walked away feeling like I really knew Eisenhower. And guys? The dude was brilliant.
The whole book is about how he handled the Cold War and how we were never nuked by Russia or dropped huge bombs on them and I guess I always just figured that “duh, of course we didn’t!” but it was super close and the only reason that full scale WWIII didn’t break out is because Eisenhower played his cards close to his chest and subtly threatened war without being an insane person. After reading this, I feel like there is a very real chance that had someone else been president, there would have been very different results.
And here’s the interesting thing too: Eisenhower had a hot temper. He would get red in the face, yell at people that were close to him and just generally throw temper tantrums, but when he was in the political eye, he was as cool as a cucumber. He was even ok with playing a bit of a “dumb old grandpa” roll even though he was crazy-smart and military minded. It’s all these fascinating contradictions that just point to the fact that he was doing what he had to do for his country and doing it right. Stellar job, dude.
So, if you want a full birth to death biography, skip this. But for a great look as Eisenhower as a man and how the Cold War played out, pick this up ASAP. Really good stuff.