It’s always been difficult for me to gain much traction with Eisenhower.
Bookended by the tumultuous era that began with FDR and extended through the Truman administration and the turbulent civil unrest of the JFK/Johnson/Nixon administrations, Eisenhower has always been the eye of the storm. Much of what happened in the ’50s happened behind the scenes: covert missions in Iran and Guatamala, unbridled tension within the party over Sen. Joseph McCarthy, in-fighting over whether or not a nuclear response was required in various hot spots around the globe (his advisors said yes, Eisenhower routinely said no), a burgeoning civil rights movement that was just starting to garner national interest…..the ’50s was anything but calm and measured.
Much of this perception has to do, I think, with Eisenhower himself. He spent much of his time vacationing (nearly 500 days), and had a policy he deemed “the Middle Way”, a drive towards compromise and conciliation. Eisenhower abhorred extremism, and seemed like a calm and measured middle ground. This makes him…well, boring. It makes the ’50s boring, for me. And, frankly, it made this book kind of boring.
Eisenhower was an accomplished president who had a long and storied career in the military. He was widely respected, even though a number of issues in his second term marred perceptions of him (a stagnant economy, Sputnik, Cuba, the collapse of peace talks with the Soviet Union, etc). Shortly after he left office, opinions on his legacy lacked promise (Arthur Schlesinger ranked him behind Herbert Hoover and just ahead of Andrew Johnson – the first president to be impeached, the same guy who allowed for the early adoption of Black Codes following the Civil War), but he’s generally considered the greatest president of the last 60 years.
Newton’s biography takes a fairly even view of Ike. He doesn’t spend a great deal of time on his early years, though he does show how he developed from the Rockwellian childhood in Kansas to be perhaps the most recognized military figure in America. Most of the time, here, is spent on his presidency, and Newton did his research. He takes a relatively detailed look at the administration, and gives ample context for the era. I have no complaints with Newton’s writing, nor of his editorialization (which is fairly minimal).
I just found the overall subject kind of….vanilla. There’s no great drama or controversy (the alleged affair is considered, but ultimately given little weight). While this does speak highly of Eisenhower, the political figure, it doesn’t make for the most compelling or captivating read.
But, I suppose history has a dry reputation for a reason….