After Dwight David Eisenhower’s death on March 28, 1969, his grandson David asked his widow, Mamie, whether she had really known her husband. “I’m not sure anyone did,” she told him. That helps explain why biographers have been compulsively drawn to him as a subject; there was obviously so much more behind the bluff, smiling exterior that it seems very worth the while to spend some time trying to understand him. Jean Edward Smith, who has written good books on Ulysses S. Grant and Lucius Clay, is the latest to do so. His Eisenhower in War and Peace is a well-researched and well-written account of Ike as statesman. It deserves to be mentioned alongside Carlo D’Este’s 2002 Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, the best one-volume account of Eisenhower in uniform. But Smith gets us no closer to a true sense of Dwight David Eisenhower the man, one of the more baffling and inconsistent figures in American history.
Eisenhower was the supreme commander of U.S. armed forces in World War II and commander-in-chief from 1953 to 1961 who drastically reduced the size of the U.S. Army and Navy and denounced the “military-industrial complex.” He was the politician with a 79 percent approval rating who took minimal risks; the man of courage who failed to stick up for his old boss George Marshall against the slanderous demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy; the officer who helped integrate the U.S. Army but waited until the Supreme Court compelled him to integrate schools; the effective instigator of the 1956 Hungarian uprising who did nothing when it was crushed; the family-values president who slept with his sexy driver-secretary throughout World War II; the candidate who twice chose Richard Nixon as his running mate yet refused properly to endorse him for president during the 1960 campaign; and the NATO internationalist who supported Egypt’s reprehensible Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser against Britain, France, and Israel during the 1956 Suez Crisis.
About the Author
Andrew Roberts is the author, most recently, of The Storm of War (Harper), a one-volume history of World War II.