Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 7 Aug 2012
WW2 had its share of larger-than-life characters, and Douglas MacArthur was among the largest. Thomas Blamey once said that "[t]he best and the worst things you hear about him are both true", and that perhaps best summed up MacArthur's career which was filled with both amazing achievements and unbelievable blunders. In MacArthur, author Richard B. Frank made a new attempt at another biography of the General of the Army.
If I was to treat this book as a primer, then Frank had done a good job with it. In an extremely concise manner, he touched upon many facets of MacArthur's life and career, everything from his father's influence on his Far East perspective to his megalomania. For someone who had such a long career and public life, however, the book was far too small to adequately cover the amount of material one would need for a fair discussion of such a controversial figure. While the author set forth to write an impartial account of MacArthur, I felt he did not do a good job of being neutral. At numerous occasions I felt the word "apologist" ringing in my head, especially when Frank went out of his way to make sure others shoulder the blame of mistakes alongside of MacArthur. Perhaps this feeling was due to the short format of the book rather than the author's bias for MacArthur, but this fact did not take away this feeling I had when going through the book. One point of redemption, if I could call it that, came in the final pages of the book when Frank shared his analysis of the general, noting, for example, his poor logistics understanding early in WW2 and how he had purposefully addressed this issue in the later phases of the Pacific War and into the Korean War. The author's projection on what MacArthur would do if he was still alive today, with the war and political situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria at the focus, was enjoyed very much.
I had reviewed this title in its audio book format. Tom Weiner spoke a little faster than what I was used to, but the pace did not pose any problems. I caught a small mistake of Weiner referring to battleships "Yamamoto" and "Musahi", which was rather amusing, though of course did no significant harm to the overall quality of his reading.
Above all, Frank and his MacArthur did a good job in portraying MacArthur as the larger-in-life figure that he was, along with all of his strengths and shortcomings. While I would not attempt to dissuade anyone from picking up this book, I would say that if you have the time for a larger book, William Manchester's American Caesar would be a far more comprehensive biography written with Manchester's masterful command of the English language.
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General Douglas MacArthur at Leyte, 17 Oct 1944