This is a compilation of the two volume biography that Ambrose had earlier released. It’s a slightly condensed version, but it certainly isn’t lacking. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s history is fascinating and for good reason. He was the commander in chief for the allied forces during World War II, and the first third of the book tells the story of his rise, the decisions that propelled the allies to victory and his relationships during the war – personal and professional.
Following the war, he was a staunch supporter the United Nations, and, as head of the American Occupation Zone in Germany, he had great influence in the direction taken to rebuild Europe. Later, as Commander of NATO, he showed great courage by insisting that Germany not only be included, but also build a military force to help secure NATO against the Soviet threat. When you think about it, less than ten years after a German-led war, this took a lot of courage and leadership.
He was so trusted and popular, it was no surprise that General Eisenhower was asked to run for President of the United States. Like all Presidents, Eisenhower suffered personal and political defeats during his terms of office. As the highest ranking military officer, he was used to be treated with the utmost respect – I enjoyed the stories of his dismay when political supporters presumed too much familiarity, or political foes showed disrespect altogether.
One of my favorite stories was near the end, when John F. Kennedy was President. Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Kennedy asked Eisenhower for advice on dealing with the Russians.
Eisenhower asked Kennedy why on earth he had not provided air cover for the invasion. Kennedy replied that “we thought that if it was learned that were really doing this rather than these rebels themselves, the Soviets would be very apt to cause trouble in Berlin.” Eisenhower gave him another long look, then said, “Mr. President, that is exactly the opposite of what would really happen. The Soviets follow their own plans, and if they see us show any weakness then is when they press us the hardest. The second they see us show strength and do something on our own, then is when they are very cagy. The failure of Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something they would not otherwise do.”
Of course, Eisenhower was absolutely right, and history has proved it to be so. The story is interesting because it highlighted Kennedy’s inexperience, but also his humility in asking Eisenhower for advice.
Despite this being a monstrous tome, I enjoyed every minute of it. Ambrose is a master storyteller when it comes to history, and Eisenhower does not disappoint.
4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 1990