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Eisenhower in War and Peace

Jean Edward's Smith's new biography obliterates earlier arguments that Eisenhower’s was a dull, torpid presidency.

By Erik Spanberg / February 21, 2012

Eisenhower in War and Peace By Jean Edward Smith Random House 976 pp.


History, we’re told, repeats itself. Those who write history, however, are another matter.

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Historians do tend to agree on the greatest presidents – Lincoln, FDR, and Washington – and often come up with similar names one rung lower. Usual suspects in the latter category include Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson.

After that, though, the rankings shift with historical cycles and reinterpretations of eras and achievements although those on the bottom (hello Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, and James Buchanan) tend to stay there. Ulysses Grant is perhaps the lone bottom-rung president whose stock has risen to a notable degree.

Commanders-in-chief whose legacies have muddled along, neither great nor awful, stand a much better chance of a restorative makeover – a bit of historical Botox – that, who knows, could even lead to a Ken Burns documentary some day. Look no further than the rescue of Harry Truman by David McCullough’s 1992 biography “Truman.” The book prompted an insightful second look at Truman’s tenure that gained wide acceptance thanks to McCullough’s compelling case for milestones including military integration, the Marshall Plan for economic aid, and creation of NATO.

This year, Presidents’ Day caps a wave of favorable assessments for Truman’s immediate successor, the formerly dismissed Dwight Eisenhower.

In recent years, the “I Like Ike” sentiment has gained momentum with biographers and historians, among them Michael Korda, Jim Newton, and now, Jean Edward Smith with his new biography of Eisenhower. Much as he did with his 2007 doorstop biography of FDR, in Eisenhower in War and Peace Smith sifts through mountains of earlier appraisals, anecdotes, and historical documents and synthesizes the information into a crisply written and meticulous analysis of Eisenhower.

He makes a convincing argument, obliterating earlier arguments by historians that Eisenhower’s was a dull, torpid presidency marked by mediocrity and go-along-to-get-along policy.


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