Those who want a concise book about an improbable president who became one of the nation's most revered should read “Citizen Soldier: A Life of Harry S. Truman” (Basic Books, $26.99).
Writer Aida D. Donald tells of Truman's impoverished early life and his good times and bad until his death at 88 in 1972. Of the 44 presidents, he often is considered by today's historians to rank in the top half-dozen. The simple man from Missouri was vice president when he was thrust into the presidency upon Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945.
The author details the complicated world following World War II and the many challenges Truman faced. The stress affected Truman's health and married life, but he and his beloved Bess stuck through it. Donald mentions the often-told story of how the couple got so involved in lovemaking that the bed collapsed. (The Blair House servants should have been too discreet to tell that.)
When Truman sought election in 1948, the pundits predicted he wouldn't have a chance. He waged a hard-fought race and emerged the victor. The author's candid appraisals of some of the public figures of the time add spice.
Misdeeds of some of Truman's staff caused his administration to be labeled as corrupt, as was the case with President Ronald Reagan. However, there was no evidence of improprieties by the two presidents themselves.
A historian, Donald has taught at Columbia University and is author of a book on Theodore Roosevelt, “A Lion in the White House.” The Truman book offers little that is fresh and original, but skimming the 265 pages is by no means a waste of time, especially for those who yearn to know more about our 33rd president.
— Dennie Hall