Truman's Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America.

Author:Donaldson, Gary A.
Position:Book review
 
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Truman's Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America. By Andrew E. Busch. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2012. 280 pp.

Despite opinions to the contrary, there is a considerable difference between political history and political science. Political scientists (as scientists would) look to the numbers for their answers--a statistical analysis that unfolds a story. They spend time collecting and calculating the numbers, lists, columns, decimal points. Historians dig deeply into the sources: archives, letters, diaries, journals, memoirs. Everyone, of course, is looking for the same answers: truths and insights to the past. Political historians and political scientists just go about it in different ways. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people (from students to book editors) who refuse to see the difference.

History is narrative, one of the humanities. It is, of course, more akin to literature than any of the sciences. Some might consider that viewpoint a detriment, a weakness in an academic world where direct focus and statistical evidence seems more important than grace and style. For at least a century, historians have lamented about the need to combine the techniques of history with other academic disciplines, to make history more "relevant," more "useful." Historians have not done particularly well at combining their works with other disciplines. We can thank the gods that academics in other disciplines have been fairly successful in looking at their own topics with an historical eye.

Andrew E. Busch's Truman's Triumphs: The 1948 Election and the Making of Postwar America is political science, written by a political scientist for other political scientists in a series designed and edited by political scientists. It's all about the numbers, and more numbers, and then (if that is not enough) there are still more numbers. Busch makes no attempt at archival research, only a pitch or two toward published memoirs, a few newspapers here and there, websites, and then a mountain of work in Roper/Fortune and Gallup Poll statistics. His analysis is mostly predictable: Truman's victory was complicated...

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