Jean Edward Smith is one of America’s greatest biographers of political and military leaders. In this remarkable book, Smith has brought together all of his experiences to produce a magisterial, memorable biography: Eisenhower in War and Peace.
Ike is paradoxical: he is at once one of the best known but least understood figures of modern American history. Smith aptly opens and closes the book with acknowledgments of Eisenhower as an enduring enigma.
If Ike the man is opaque, his life and work has been thrown open by the assiduous research of Smith. ‘Eisenhower in War and Peace’ is compelling in its reportage and interpretation of every aspect of Ike’s journey. One sees him as a young, small-town boy eager for a wider stage. One sees him at West Point, where he was not a preeminent student in his formal education, but whose approach served him well in later roles.
Smith, himself a veteran of military service in Europe during the Eisenhower administration, has a good feel for the realities of the armed services. Combined with his scholarly skill, this results in convincing understanding of Eisenhower the military man.
So, too, Smith is persuasive in making his case that Ike, along with FDR, stands as ‘the most successful president’ of the last century. That judgment might well be challenged or qualified, but Smith is on firm ground nonetheless.
Ike’s strengths as a president can be traced back to his development in the course of an extraordinary military career. So, too, there may be limitations that also stemmed from his moving his military management template into politics. For example, Ike seems somewhat tone-deaf to the power of vision and communication in public life. Given the accomplishments that Smith recounts, one can imagine that a more skilled communicator, such as FDR, would have weaved a narrative of corresponding power.
There are a number of good books on Ike, from writers as diverse and talented as Stephen Ambrose and Michael Korda. Now they all must make way for a new, indispensable addition to the Eisenhower literature.
Jean Edward Smith | Eisenhower in War and Peace