Alonzo Hamby, biographies, David McCullough, Harry Truman, presidential biographies, Presidents, Pulitzer Prize, Robert Dallek, Robert Ferrell
FDR’s presidency lasted nearly 4,500 days – and it sometimes seems I spent nearly as much time working my way through 19 of his best biographies.
In contrast, Harry Truman offers a shorter (and less dramatic) presidency and fewer compelling biographies. In fact, for some time the only biography of Truman I owned was the classic by David McCullough.
With your suggestions and a little investigative work I now have four biographies of the 33rd president. But I can’t help feeling my library is still too light on biographies of this steady and well-respected (if unexciting) president.
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I’m beginning with David McCullough’s iconic “Truman” which is easily the best-read of the Truman bios. But it is also one of the 3 or 4 most popular presidential biographies of all time…particularly notable since this book is 992 pages long! Published in 1992, this was the first of McCullough’s three presidential biographies and it earned the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. I’m about halfway through it now and, yes, it is really good.
Working in order of oldest-to-newest, my next biography will be Robert Ferrell’s “Harry S. Truman: A Life.” Published in 1994, this biography is about half the length of McCullough’s and because it was written by an authority on Truman I consider it a must-read. But I’m unfamiliar with Ferrell as an author so I have no idea what to expect…
My third Truman biography is Alonzo Hamby’s “Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman” which was published in 1995. It has the reputation of being well-researched and extremely comprehensive…but less “dynamic” than McCullough’s biography.
I plan to wrap up this president with Robert Dallek’s “Harry S. Truman” which was published in 2008 and is a member of The American Presidents Series. Dallek is the author of full-scale biographies of LBJ and JFK, among others, and I’m curious to see what he can do with Truman in an abbreviated format.
Then, sometime in early-to-mid November, we’ll begin storming Normandy with Dwight D. Eisenhower!
Bruce Johnson said:
Why not Margaret Truman’s biography of her father?
Good question. So far I’ve avoided presidential autobiographies and memoirs as well as biographies written by family members. I plan to read memoirs and books like Margaret Truman’s on a “next” round of reading through the presidents. Among the most anticipated of those reads for me: Ulysses Grant’s memoirs and Margaret Truman’s book about her father 🙂
Terry C. Anderson said:
There is no question that David McCullough writes wonderful accounts of history. His style makes even a biography of this size approachable and enjoyable. He has done so much for bringing history to life and inspiring many to start exploring more of our country’s background. I had the pleasure of spending an entire morning with him and found him to be a total gentleman and very dedicated to making history interesting for the young reader and student. My visit gave me hope that we can still do things to advance the teaching of history in our schools.
After you complete your biographies of Truman, Steve, I have two suggestions for you. Read “Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip” by Matthew Algeo. It will really bring all that you learn about Harry to life and complete your understanding of the man. Second, visit Independence , MO and don’t just stop at the great Truman Library but be certain to tour the Truman home. You will be convinced that Harry and Bess are still there.
Enjoy the rest of “Truman” the biography of a fine public servant by America’s best historian.
Thanks for the tips. The book looks *fabulous* and after reading no more than the first couple of pages I’m already hooked! The idea of visiting Independence, MO seems even more compelling and although I can’t remember the circumstances, someone recently told me essentially the same thing: that visiting the Truman home/town will be an experience like no other. It probably won’t happen this fall but I’m putting it on the list of places I desperately need to visit (a list that includes Abraham Lincoln’s “hot spots” as well as FDR’s Hyde Park).
I’ll echo the recommendation of Algeo’s book. It is a fun light read. McCullough’s Truman remains on my must read again list, I think I rushed through the last two chapters because I needed to return it to the library. Now I own a copy. As a native Kansas Citian who has always enjoyed history (Kansas side, but with deep roots in Missouri), it is hard not to love the depth McCullough goes into in terms of background. I’ll not say too much more here, fearing I’ll spoil it. Looking forward to hearing about the other biographies as well.
I have not read another bio of Truman, but I thought Dallack, did a good job as Truman as presenting Truman as someone who better or worse help create the U.S. Cold War foreign policy. I thought he dealt with the A-bomb more thoughtfully than a lot of stuff I have heard about why we dropped the A-bomb. I would curious what you think of Dallack’s book.
If you want to add to your already crazy-long list, Robert Donovan wrote a two-volume account of the Truman presidency — “Crisis and Conflict” and “Tumultuous Years.” Not full-bore biographies, but supposed to be good histories of the administration.
After the FDR itinerary, everything else seems pretty easy by comparison. I’ll definitely look into the Donovan series and figure out where to stash it – on this or the f/u list. Thanks!
I’m so pleased to hear that the McCullough book is so well thought of. I really loved it. There’s a sweet book about Truman you might like: Matthew Algeo’s Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure.
RR CAIlle said:
The twitter starts here – Trump
I’ll also recommend Algeo’s Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. It will present a picture of Truman you will not get in other sources. I would also give a hearty recommend to Richard Lawrence Miller’s Truman: The Rise to Power which ends just before he gets the momentous call and takes the Oath of Office. This is the most detailed book I’ve read on Truman’s years prior to the Presidency.