Jeffrey Frank, author of the bestselling "Ike and Dick", returns with the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years, recounting how so ordinary a man met the extraordinary challenge of leading America through the pivotal years of the mid-20th century.
Jeffrey Frank doesn’t attempt to emulate David McCullough’s cradle-to-grave biography, published three decades ago. Frank instead glides over Truman’s pre-presidential years to deliver a well-researched, balanced and pithy account that 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.
... a book that, in its timing, acts almost as a blueprint for a liberal president to navigate a challenging world, focused through the prism of a man who was nobody’s real first choice for president and yet forged an envious record ... Frank frames his subject in a different way from David McCullough’s completist, Pulitzer Prize–winning doorstopper. It is a humbler, more focused book, with Truman’s pre-presidential life relegated to an extended prologue. This is a character study of an introverted personality in a profession that rewards loud performance. It is an approach that fits his subject: Frank’s depiction of Truman is of a man perpetually outside his comfort zone, preferring bourbon and branch water in his home of Independence, Missouri, to martinis on the DC cocktail circuit ... Frank spends a large amount of time on Truman’s family life, movingly depicting his marriage to Bess Truman, who loathed Washington and fiercely guarded her privacy ... Frank portrays Truman so well that the book’s ending feels like an anticlimax ... 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.
There is much that is persuasive in Mr. Frank’s account, and much that is provocative and debatable. Many of Truman’s flaws are shared, to one degree or another, by all political figures, and Truman’s prejudices were of course very much of his time ... 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, Mr. Frank’s book is timely in ways he couldn’t have imagined when he started it. While some of his opinions and interpretations—particularly about containment and the Korean War—are unlikely to persuade everyone, his revisionist take on Truman is rigorously researched, thought-provoking and, not least, a pleasure to read.