Tom Carson: Review of Jean Edward Smith's "Eisenhower in War and Peace" (Random House, 2012)





Tom Carson won two National Magazine Awards during his stint as Esquire's "Screen" columnist and has been nominated twice more as GQ's movie reviewer. Formerly a staff writer at LA Weekly and The Village Voice, he is the author of Gilligan's Wake (a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2003) and Daisy Buchanan's Daughter.

...[T]o U.S. liberals at the time, [Dwight Eisenhower] was merely an ineffectual, smiling bumbler: "The Great Golfer," as Gore Vidal called him. Later generations have simply forgotten him, which is a willful lacuna on the now-radicalized GOP's part (the last thing its neo-Bolsheviki want to celebrate is the bland Kerensky who succeeded) but otherwise just symptomatic of his low entertainment value. Unlike JFK or FDR, he was resolutely unexciting, and never mind that being the boring center of the volcanic 1950s was his political genius. It would be nice if Jean Edward Smith's fine new biography, Eisenhower in War and Peace, were to provoke a reassessment in both camps.

Smith doesn't claim any profound insights into his subject's private motives or character. "Dwight Eisenhower remains an enigma," he tells us right up front—and to swipe a joke from my wife, the book's subtitle isn't An Enigma Solved. But he does the next best thing by turning Ike's methodology as both general and president into a study in shrewdness and guile that refutes popular perceptions of him as a genial (he wasn't) but shallow (definitely not) political amateur. After two terms as Ike's mistrusted vice president, Richard Nixon—no mean judge of wiliness, particularly when directed against him—wrote that Eisenhower was "a far more complex and devious man than most people realized," adding the classic Nixon qualifier (Ike was still alive at the time) that he meant "complex and devious" in "the best sense of these words."...



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