"EISENHOWER IN WAR AND PEACE," by Jean Edward Smith, Random House, $40, 976 pages (nf)
When one considers the life of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the first things that come to mind are his outstanding service as a general in World War II and his successful two terms as president of the United States, in which he oversaw the peace and prosperity of the 1950s.
Historian Jean Edward Smith's recent biography, “Eisenhower in War and Peace,” brilliantly examines these periods, but also expertly traces the slow and steady rise of an amazing army officer in the turbulent first half of the 20th century.
Bringing the same eloquence and relevance to modern times that marked his previous biographies of Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Smith's portrait of Ike may very well be the definitive work for years to come, despite the recent spate of books on this remarkable man.
Eisenhower's humble origins are considered, as is his experience at West Point and his early army life. Possessing a keen mind and a knack for organization, Ike soon earned the respect of his superiors. Hard work paid off repeatedly for Ike, as his ambition drove him relentlessly. Smith points out that throughout Ike's life, chance played a major part in his advancement and his postings — perhaps confirming Napoleon's view that lucky generals were better than good ones.
The chapters detailing Eisenhower's service in World War II are thorough and amazing. A former army officer himself, Smith brings a military mind to his study, which helps to illuminate not only Ike's strategy against the Germans, but also the day-to-day problems of command. The sections on D-Day are epic in scope and make one appreciate the power and leadership of one man amidst the storm of steel that landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
Equally engaging is Smith's look at a truly remarkable presidency. Ike brought the Korean War to a close, stared down Joe McCarthy, went toe to toe with Khrushchev, expertly managed the Suez Crisis, and oversaw the desegregation of schools in the south, leading to the dramatic events in Little Rock, Ark.
Throughout this stellar work, history's giants cross Eisenhower's path. George C. Marhsall, FDR, Harry Truman, Charles de Gualle, Winston Churchill, Georgy Zhukov, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur and others add a rich texture to an amazing life and make for great reading.
Where this work disappoints is in Eisenhower's final years and death. The eight years between Ike leaving office and his death in 1969 are given barely four pages. As in his previous presidential biography of FDR, Smith abruptly ends the narrative at the subject's death without a deeper exploration of his legacy. Such a summation and consideration is always welcome in a book of such magisterial scope.
Despite the ending, this is a solid work that greatly illustrates Eisenhower's first-rate service in the U.S. Army and in the White House. Those interested in the mechanics of great leadership will learn much from this study of a truly great American.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the popular "History Challenge" iPhone/iPad apps. Email: [email protected]