Man of the People

Man of the People

A Life of Harry S. Truman

Book - 1995
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Harry S. Truman is remembered today as an icon--the plain-speaking president, "Give 'em Hell Harry," the chief executive who put "The Buck Stops Here" on his desk. But Alonzo L. Hamby shows that there was more to Truman than the pugnacious fighter so prominent in popular memory. Insecure,ambitious, a man of honor, a partisan loyalist, an agrarian Jeffersonian Democrat who became a champion of big government, Truman was a complex figure who fought long and hard to triumph over his own weaknesses.In Man of the People, Alonzo L. Hamby offers a gripping account of this distinctively American life, tracing Truman's remarkable rise from marginal farmer in rural Missouri to shaper of the postwar world. Truman comes alive in these pages as he has nowhere else, making his way from the farmhouse,to the front lines in France during World War I, to the difficult small-business world of Kansas City--all the time struggling with his deep feelings of inadequacy and immense ambition. Hamby provides an honest, incisive look at the rising politician's relationship with Kansas City political bossTom Pendergast, who sponsored his career from the county court to the U.S. Senate. We see how Truman, a ferocious and skilled fighter in factional party battles, tried to balance his sense of honor with his political loyalties. Free of corruption himself, he nevertheless refused to repudiatePendergast even when the boss was sinking under the weight of his ties to organized crime. Hamby also offers the best account yet of Truman's critical years in the Senate, covering not only his World War II probe of the defense program but also his neglected and revealing populistic investigationsof the railroads during the 1930s. He demonstrates that Truman was one of the most popular and respected members of the upper house.Hamby is particularly acute in his portrait of Truman's volatile presidency. He criticizes some aspects of the decision to drop the atomic bombs against Japan but concludes that, considered in context, the act was understandable and justified. Providing new insight into the Cold War, he identifiesthe Turkish and Iranian crisis of 1946 as crucial turning points in Truman's attitudes toward the Soviet Union. Thoroughly covering Truman's struggle for "liberalism in a conservative age," Hamby also sheds great light on the president's Fair Deal domestic program.Harry Truman, Hamby writes, was a flawed man--insecure, often petty and vindictive--yet one of the great presidents of the twentieth century. But Americans cherish him less for what he did than for who he was: an ordinary person who worked his way up the political ladder to the summit of power.In Man of the People, Alonzo L. Hamby provides a richly perceptive biography, giving us the best look yet at who Truman was, how he changed, and why he triumphed.
Publisher: New York : Oxford University Press, 1995.
ISBN: 9780195045468
Characteristics: xv, 760 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.


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Jan 10, 2010

On Thursday April 12, 1945 FDR worked on some correspondence while an artist sketched him at work. Roosevelt complained of a headache, then falling unconscious, he died a few hours later having suffered a stroke.

At that moment, Harry S. Truman, no doubt petrified at the prospect, became president. In those days very little thought was given to the man who was just a heartbeat away from the presidency. He was little known beyond the senate where he had served prior to being picked as FDR's running mate in 1944. Truman was an accidental president, of whom little was expected. He stepped into the presidency at a critical moment. The European War was near it’s end; the Pacific War continued with planners expecting it to last at least another year.

Unknown to him was the work on the atomic bomb. So closely held a secret that Truman was not told about it until the first test was about to be made. Informed of the successful test during the Potsdam Conference, he decided to confide in Stalin that the Americans had a new weapon. In August, to avoid thousands of casualties on the battlefields during an invasion of Japan, Truman authorized its use. Today revisionist historians and commentators, who fail to understand the time, overlook the necessity of the A-bomb’s use. Certainly it was a terrible weapon to be used and the author more than once emphasizes Truman’s regret at having used it. Yet he intimates that in the time that Truman had no choice but to shorten the war against Japan.

Today Truman has become almost an iconic figure and considered to be one of the top 8 presidents of United States. Yet few people know more about him than he unleashed the A-bomb to end the war in the Pacific and he fired Douglas MacArthur from command of the Korean War.
This book presents Truman, warts and all as a humble man who had 3 successes in his life: his army service in WWI as an artillery officer, his marriage to Bess Wallace and his political career.

His failures were as a farmer and a businessman.

Like many successful men Truman was flawed. He had strong dislikes, which he often committed to paper but to his credit seldom mailed these letters to the individuals he was at the moment disappointed in. - release valve that probably contributed to his success in politics. However, he was for all intents and purposes a machine politician.

He loved his bourbon and water, enjoyed the company of his friends and played poker.

This book traces in detail Truman’s rise in politics from a county official to the senate, his selection as FDR’s running mate in 1944 and his terms as president. It traces his victory over Dewey in 1948. The rapid decline in his popularity due to the Korean War, his firing of MacArthur for insubordination and hsi attempt to take over the steel industry.

We are given a glimpse at his organizational skills such as the way he reorganized the executive branch, created the NSC as an adisory body for the president and defined roles for various advisiors and staff of the president.

The book describes the transition from the Truman administration to the Eisenhower administration and how that transition has become the model still used today when the presidency is handed over to the newly elected president. This was a tradition started by Truman. However, it is noted in some detail how Truman disliked Eisenhower for turning down Truman’s offer to have run for president as a Democrat. How Eisenhower disappointed him by declaring himself a Republican and from that moment on earned Truman’s enmity. The author also describes how Truman pegged Nixon as a liar and untrustworthy man long before Nixon became vice president and later president.

The book is well written, carefully researched and annotated. It is neither dry nor dull and I felt it brought not only Truman to life but also filled the book with the numerous great men who shared the world stage with him and with whom he worked.


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