Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 3 Jan 2011
Dwight D. Eisenhower was a relatively unknown officer in the United States Army when the war began. In WW1, he developed himself as an efficient administrator as an officer placed in charge of training, thus missed all combat. During the inter-war years, his talents in organization continued to haunt him, as his actual experience commanding men in the field was at an absolute minimum. Although his never got a chance to put his academic knowledge to the test, his superiors recognized his talent as something that stood out from the typical officer breed. His years of experience in administrative roles, plus his reputation as a team player, made him the ideal senior officer to place in a supreme commander role to coordinate actions of armies of many nations. In that role commanding all Allied forces in Europe, his career and popularity began to soar, eventually leading to the White House.
The namesake title Eisenhower was author John Wukovits' attempt at a new biography of this general-statesman. I must say that I did not find the book to be a good one, and there were multiple reasons.
This concise volume did Eisenhower's career little justice, as most events, even the key ones in his life, were merely glanced over. While the book's overwhelming focus on WW2 actually did this WW2-centric reader a favor, I was surprised to find that only what seems like a handful of pages were set aside for his eight years in the White House as the President of the United States. The Korean War took place during his presidency but yet it was barely mentioned, while events that took place during the terms of his successors, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, got their places in the book. I had no qualms with the volume containing no new information, but while reading I felt the author could have included much more content. In terms of content, I did note that he did a great job detailing the relationship between Eisenhower and Patton; again not the most content-rich on this topic (check out Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War for a better account of their friendship and experience working together), the author did a fine job describing how the two influenced each other's thinking. The author also did a good job explaining how Eisenhower's early mentor Fox Conner influenced his later decisions.
As for the author's repeated comparison of WW2 and the Korean War to actions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, I found them to be of little value to the topic at hand, especially given that the author did not go beyond one or two sentences with them, thus leaving me clueless on why the comparison was done and where he was going with those ideas. I felt in most cases these comparisons could be deleted out-right without revising sentences before and after them, and the book would still read just fine.
While Wukovits stressed the fact that Eisenhower was a straight-forward man who never sugarcoated anything, Wukovits sure did. No man in history had ever been perfect, and no one ever will be; Eisenhower was definitely the case, however great a leader he was. While the author did a great job explaining Eisenhower's proudest achievements, his failures were either glossed over, the blame shifted onto someone else, or even omitted altogether. On related topic was the author's biased view of those who crossed paths with Eisenhower, including, but not limited to, Douglas MacArthur, Bernard Montgomery, and Walter Krueger. As controversial as those figures might be, they were still key reasons of Allied victory in WW2, and there was no need to antagonize them, in several instances unjustifiably, in a volume that was supposed to be a biography of Eisenhower and not an analysis of the war. Had I wanted a memoir rather than a history of Eisenhower, I would probably re-read Crusade in Europe to get a true first-person perspective.
My final complaint about the book was that, while the author attempted to write a biography, the feeling I received of that of a memoir written by a third person, for that many parts of the book read more so like an editorial than an actual book on history, which needed to told from a relatively-neutral standpoint.
The copy of Eisenhower I reviewed was the audio book edition checked out from the local library. Narrator Brian Emerson did a good job with the reading, keeping clear and steady volume while maintaining a good pace. I noticed on several occasions that some sentences or groups of sentences were read twice in immediate succession; initially I thought it was poor production work of the audio book publisher, but to be honest I should say that could very well be a technical issue with my MP3 player.
I would only recommend Eisenhower as an introduction to the namesake general and statesman, and I would caution that the author seemed to have inserted some personal comments in the title, particularly to downplay or ignore the achievements of Eisenhower's political opponents. There were certainly many other titles I had read in the past that offered more on this particular topic, most of which I would recommend over this title.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945