The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945–1953

S. & S. Mar. 2022. 576p. ISBN 9781501102899. $32.50. BIOG
Frank (novelist and former editor at The New Yorker and the Washington Post) crafts an expansive, appreciative review of a consequential, yet once-underestimated president who arguably grew into the job he unexpectedly assumed. Frank argues that Harry Truman (1884–1972) revealed himself to be contradictory, yet largely decisive and direct in addressing challenges that both he and the United States faced. These included: the use of atomic weapons and power; civil rights; recognition of Israel; maintaining the military at a “ready” state during the Cold War; and determining the extent of domestic subversion and methods to mollify both business and labor. Written in a conversational style, this book sees Frank seasoning his workmanlike narrative with a surfeit of side notes, making the non-specialist reader want to engage in purposeful browsing. Although he uses archival records himself, Frank dutifully cites abundant secondary works. It is helpful that the book references Truman’s statesmen-advisors (as well as his home-state cronies), but somewhat distracting that it also details men’s clothing, physical characteristics, and demeanors.
VERDICT This biography is an accurate, synthetic account which readers will want to compare with David McCullough’s Truman (1993), which Frank highly praises.
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