Book review: Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

Eisenhower in War and PeaceEisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Achilles’ heel of biographers are those who fall in love with their subject and fail to be objective about the subject’s failings (an excellent example of this is David McCullough’s biography of John Adams).
In general, the author of this biography does his best to be as even-handed as he can, although a pro-Eisenhower bias is still evident. The book is a comprehensive look at Eisenhower’s life and at how surprisingly private and closed he was (the mischievous grin he flashed papered over many omissions, evidently). The author makes the point that Eisenhower’s main strength in his rise in the army was political, not strategic, but that this particular strength was exactly what was needed in the supreme commander of the Allied army. (As proof of his political skills, Eisenhower actually got along well with de Gaulle, amazingly enough.)
The author also doesn’t mince many words about Eisenhower’s wartime affair with Kay Summersby and minces even fewer words about why and how Eisenhower ended the relationship. That being said, there was remarkably little said about how Eisenhower’s family and Eisenhower himself whitewashed the episode and did their best to bury the evidence.
The most compelling chapters were the ones about Eisenhower’s rise in the Army and World War II. While the chapters on the Eisenhower Administration were also quite interesting (I especially enjoyed the chapter on the Suez Canal), the events are obviously less interesting. I also thought the author minimized Eisenhower’s mistakes in the Middle East to the point where you almost believed that the Iranian coup that put the Shah in power was exclusively the fault of Kermit Roosevelt and John Foster Dulles, despite the fact that Eisenhower signed off on it.
Overall, however, this was an excellent and comprehensive biography. If you know very little about Eisenhower, the breadth and depth of the book make it a good place to start. And if you know quite a bit about Eisenhower, the additional primary sources and the reasonably even-handed treatment of Eisenhower make this book a good additional resource.
I also happen to agree with the author’s ultimate conclusion. In the end, no one knew Ike very well, and that was exactly the way he wanted it.

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