Monday, February 10, 2014

"Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda: A Review

To nobody's surprise, Ike won - by a margin of more than 6.5 million (roughly 55 percent of the popular vote), and 442 of the 531 electoral votes.

There were plenty of voters alive in whose memory there had never been a Republican President.

Ike had broken twenty years of defeat with a landslide victory. (657)

Who was the greatest American hero of the 20th century? Perhaps a number of names come immediately to mind: Neil Armstrong, George Patton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others. But at the top of such a Mount Rushmore of 20th century American heroes ought to stand the Supreme Commander and 34th President of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower. That is the basic argument in the estimable biography by Michael Korda called Ike: An American Hero.

Eisenhower not only led the Allies to victory in World War 2 and was present when Germany surrendered as a five-star general, but also led America out of the Korean War as President. Paradoxically, and unexpectedly, Eisenhower was a man of war as general and a man of peace as President. Nonetheless, historians have not given Eisenhower enough credit especially as President. To many historians, Ike served as President during the most boring time in 20th Century America. Little, they suggest, was accomplished. Little happened worth remembering.

That conclusion, however, is likely to change. Eisenhower was an American hero who not only changed the world, but saved it from tyranny. In his biography, Korda walks the reader in great detail through all of the events of Eisenhower's life from his upbringing to his death. The book is massive (but comparable to other Presidential biographies) numbering over 700 pages in length. Nonetheless, Korda is a great writer that makes this long biography seem much shorter.

When it comes to Eisenhower, two major events are central: his work as supreme commander during the Great War and his service as president. In this biography, Korda dedicates much more space to the war than to the Presidency. My one disappointment with the book is that in such a long book, so little comparable space is dedicated to his work as President. The author dedicates over one hundred pages to the story behind two major battles (not D-Day) of the War. For D-Day he dedicates the second chapter and a later chapter to the central battle of the war. For his campaign and work as President, the author dedicates not even a hundred pages.

It is my goal to read at least one serious biography on each President (you can see the list so far below) and thus I am biased in what I am looking for. I am more personally interested in Eisenhower the President than Eisenhower the General. Korda, however, had a different approach. There is no doubt that Eisenhower saw himself more as a general and "an army guy" than a President or politician.

One key issue Korda deals with extensively regards the mysterious relationship Ike had with his driver during the war, Kay Summersby. Did he commit adultery with her? Was it just a friendly, but professional, relationship? Only they know for sure (Kay later claimed the relationship was sexual), but no one can doubt it was borderline (at best) inappropriate. Eisenhower would have been better choosing a different driver and "right hand man" when the controversy started to brew.

In addition to his honest treatment of the Summersby issue, I really enjoyed Korda's approach of putting the central event of Ike's life, D-Day, at the beginning. After introducing the reader to Eisenhower, the author takes us immediately to the events leading up to D-Day. The author rightly sees this event as the central event of Eisenhower's life. We could even say, D-Day made Ike the man we remember him to be. D-Day was the Gettysburg of the Second World War assuring the defeat of Hitler and Ike was the man who gave the final order.

Overall, I strongly recommend this biography. The book is engaging and worth the investment. We need more men like Eisenhower in America today. I conclude as Korda does:
[Dwight D. Eisenhower] was, in every sense of the words, an American hero. (723)

Michael Korda on Ike: An American Hero from Tattered Cover on

For more biographies on the Presidents
President Barack Obama - "The Audacity of Hope" by Barack Obama: A Review
President George W. Bush - "Decision Points" by George W. Bush
President Bill Clinton - "The Natural" by Joe Klein: A Review 
President Ronald Reagan - "Ronald Reagan" by Dinesh D'Souza 
President Gerald Ford - "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley: A Review
President John F. Kennedy - "Killing Kennedy" by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard: A Review
President Dwight D. Eisenhower - "Ike: An American Hero" by Michael Korda: A Review
President Abraham Lincoln - "Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage"

American Experience Documentaries:
Woodrow Wilson: An American Experience
Dwight Eisenhower: An American Experience
Richard Nixon: American Experience
Jimmy Carter: An American Experience
Ronald Reagan: An American Experience
HW Bush: An American Experience  
Clinton: An American Experience
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