William Hitchcock’s “The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s” was published in 2018. Hitchcock is a professor of history at the University of Virginia and has written a half-dozen books including “The Bitter Road to Freedom: A New History of the Liberation of Europe” which was a 2009 Pulitzer Prize finalist for Nonfiction. He is currently working on a book about FDR and the rise of fascism in Europe.
It is often argued “The Age of Eisenhower” is more about the age and less about Eisenhower. But it is best described as a detailed review of Eisenhower’s presidency within the context of his times. And for readers new to Ike, it also provides a brief but useful survey of his pre-presidency (with a focus on his life after World War II).
The book opens with a compelling Prologue laying out the author’s thesis: that Eisenhower was a far more adroit politician than was recognized at the time…or for decades thereafter. But Hitchcock is just the latest in a crowded field of historians to share that view; the image of Ike as a disinterested and doddering president has largely faded. Hitchcock goes further, however, arguing he was such an influential force that the years between World War II and JFK’s presidency should be known as the Age of Eisenhower.
But while the author’s fondness for Eisenhower is unmistakable, his 517-page narrative provides a systematic and fairly well balanced accounting of the 34th president’s successes and failures. On issues such as McCarthyism, race relations, foreign affairs and domestic issues, this book describes and dissects the status quo, examines the competing forces which confronted Eisenhower and analyzes and critiques his actions.
Eisenhower’s two-term presidency accounts for about three-fourths of the book’s length and the methodical fifteen-chapter review of his presidency is managed thematically rather than chronologically. But readers hoping to keep track of the actual sequence of events will be delighted to find that topics are generally covered in the order in which they transpired.
Hitchcock’s writing style is extraordinarily clear and comprehensible. But large parts of the narrative – particularly portions which take place away from Eisenhower – feel fact-heavy and colorless. Readers who are strongly inclined toward captivating prose over incisive history will quickly conclude this is not the ideal vehicle for exploring Eisenhower’s life.
Some of the more “scholarly” topics should appeal to a broad audience, however, including Eisenhower’s perspective on McCarthyism, his attitudes regarding the civil rights movement and his relationship with Richard Nixon. Even the Suez Crisis is surprisingly engrossing. Finally, Hitchcock does a nice job reviewing the fall and rise of Eisenhower’s legacy.
Overall, as a detailed review of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency and assessment of his political legacy, William Hitchcock’s “The Age of Eisenhower” is excellent. Readers especially interested in his two terms in the White House will find this a thoughtful exploration of those years. But for readers seeking a colorful and comprehensive look at Eisenhower’s life – including his service in World War II – this book is not ideal.
Overall Rating: 3¾ stars