Harry S. Truman by Robert Dallek
First, before I even write anything about this book in particular, I have to announce the terrific thing I discovered because of this book: There exists something called “The American Presidents” series, and this book is part of it. I opened the book right here in my kitchen and saw a list of all the books in this series, and I confess that I gasped and then uttered a word I will not repeat here (this word was said with great joy and reverence [in the privacy of my own home], but it’s still best not repeated). The other books in the series are written by such notables as Douglas Brinkley (on Gerald Ford), John Dean (on Warren Harding), and H.W. Brands (on Woodrow Wilson). The Truman book is fairly short – just over 150 pages. On the series web site, the editors say they wish to offer books that are “compact.” I tell you, this is just the ticket for learning just enough about some of those less-well-known fellows like Chester A. Arthur and (my own favorite-to-mention, obscure, oft-forgotten president) Millard Fillmore. Excellent!
Now, to the Truman book itself—
While David McCullough’s Truman is my favorite biography of our 33rd president, Robert Dallek’s book does a fine job of highlighting the key parts of his presidency. Interestingly, though I have just praised the concept of this series of compact presidential biographies, it occurred to me while reading Harry S. Truman that Dallek wasn’t able to spread his wings the way he has in his other, longer books. There was nothing wrong with this book; it just didn’t make me hum contentedly the way Dallek’s writing usually does. On the up side, Dallek gives us a grittier view of Truman than McCullough did—and it’s fine to see that Truman really had some serious failings. (I also liked seeing examples of his famously colorful language; other books have glossed over it, and I was edified to see that the man truly could swear.) I would suggest this book to anyone seeking to learn the basics about Truman’s presidency without committing to the very long McCullough biography.