American history, biographies, Carlo D'Este, Dwight Eisenhower, Evan Thomas, Fred Greenstein, Geoffrey Perret, Jean Edward Smith, Jefrey Frank, Jim Newton, Peter Lyon, presidential biographies, Presidents, Stephen Ambrose
During the past 1,400 days I’ve journeyed back through time to witness some of the most dramatic moments in American history.
I’ve observed the struggle to draft a constitution, watched as the young nation almost tore itself apart, and looked on as millions of Americans struggled through the Great Depression.
After 33 presidents, 167 biographies and over 80,000 pages I’m two-thirds of the way through this great adventure. And yet nothing about it has grown stale, tired or even remotely mundane.
That’s why I can begin my journey through the biographies of Dwight Eisenhower with more than a modicum of optimism. From a distance he seems detached, humorless and a bit uninteresting. But I know from experience that most presidents are far more complex (and fascinating) than their two-dimensional caricatures.
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I’m beginning with Jean Edward Smith’s 2012 “Eisenhower In War and Peace.” This is my third presidential biography by Smith; his biographies of Grant and FDR were my favorites of those two presidents so my expectations are high!
Next I’ll be reading Carlo D’Este’s 2002 “Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life.” This biography has a solid, scholarly reputation and appears to be comprehensive and exhaustive. His 1995 biography of Patton remains extremely popular.
“Eisenhower” by Geoffrey Perret was published in 1999. Perret is the author of a biography of Ulysses Grant which I liked and one on JFK I haven’t yet read. This biography reportedly incorporates source materials not available to earlier biographers and has a reputation for providing a carefully balanced portrait of Eisenhower.
Peter Lyon’s 1974 “Eisenhower: Portrait of the Hero” is another lengthy, thorough biography of Eisenhower. It is no longer a popular selection on Eisenhower so I don’t know what to expect…but it’s always interesting to read an older classic.
Jim Newton’s 2011 “Eisenhower: The White House Years” is the first less-than-comprehensive biography of Eisenhower I’m reading. Recommended by two of my regular followers, this biography promises a thoughtful, penetrating account of Ike’s presidency.
“The Hidden-Hand Presidency: Eisenhower as Leader” by Fred Greenstein is another recommendation from this site’s regular (and always insightful) guests. Published in 1982, this well-researched book reportedly challenges old stereotypes of Eisenhower and portrays him as more than just a simple caretaker president.
“Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World” is Evan Thomas’s 2012 book which seems to take Greenstein’s theory even further. The book’s core thesis: that despite outward appearances, Eisenhower was actually a brilliant man, a cunning strategist and and a master manipulator. I’ve heard the evidence is not entirely convincing but that the book is excellent nonetheless.
Jeffrey Frank’s “Ike & Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage” was published in 2013 and promises to be the book that is “unlike the others” on this list.
I will wrap up with Stephen Ambrose’s authorized take on Eisenhower, beginning with his controversial two-volume series: “Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect 1890-1952” and “Eisenhower: The President.” Published in the early 1980s I’ve heard this is an excellent series, but it is tainted by allegations of both plagiarism and “creative embellishment.” I will move on to the best biographies of JFK once I read Ambrose’s one-volume series abridgement “Eisenhower: Soldier and President.”