Two Americans: Truman, Eisenhower, and a Dangerous World. By William Lee Miller. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. 416 pp.
From William Lee Miller, the author of Lincoln's Virtues (Vintage, 2003), comes a new study of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and the decisions each man made on important issues during dangerous times. According to Miller, both Truman and Ike embraced America's responsibility for worldwide leadership in the postwar period, and his book is an examination of their similar upbringings, overlapping career tracks, personal interactions, and grand political choices, sometimes made together, that shaped the following four decades of American history.
Miller offers a fresh look at the style and the substance of both men from their secular and provincial roots through their presidencies. The author juxtaposes their lives during the Great War when Ike trained troops back home and Truman commanded troops in France and during their formative years of the interwar period. Fortune fell upon both at the beginning of World War II: Truman became a U.S. senator and achieved distinction investigating waste in defense procurement, and Eisenhower was summoned to Washington to develop early plans for the American war effort in the Pacific. These roles propelled both men into even greater responsibilities and prominence.
The author's approach to chronology is unique and appropriate. In the early chapters, he follows both men at roughly the same moment in history when their careers were quite dissimilar. Later chapters are topical, as Miller focuses on how each man dealt with specific political and diplomatic issues as well as each one's own presidential style. Miller works with some printed primary sources, including the memoirs of George Kennan, Dean Acheson, and, of course, Truman and Eisenhower. But much of his narrative depends upon the perspectives and details offered in biographies of Truman by Robert Ferrell (Harry S. Truman: A Life [American Political Biography Press, 2007]) and Alonzo Hamby (Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman [Oxford University Press, 1995)], and in studies of Eisenhower by Stephen Ambrose (e.g., Eisenhower: Soldier and President [American Political Biography Press, 2007]) and Carlo D'Este (Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life [Holt Paperbacks, 2003]).
The crux of Miller's narrative is the crucial years between 1945 and 1953 when Truman and Eisenhower coexisted in and around Washington. One served as president of the United...