A careful dissection of Harry S. Truman’s improbable presidential win reveals just how
far the eight ball “Give ‘em Hell Harry” really was.

Today, the 33rd president of the United States is popularly known as the irrepressible,
silver-haired scrapper who dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and proclaimed, “The
Buck Stops Here.” But as Pietrusza meticulously illustrates, that wasn’t necessarily the
case in 1948. Quite the contrary, back then many viewed Truman as a profoundly flawed
individual who was too weak and unqualified for the White House. He had ties to corrupt
party bosses, was weaned on Jim Crow racism and couldn't give a decent speech if his
life depended on it. The famously false Chicago Tribune headline “Dewey Defeats
Truman” indeed said it all—the little seat-warmer from Missouri who had inherited the
White House following FDR’s death was not supposed to win in 1948. While rogue
Democrats undercut him, nervous rank-and-file members sought his ouster. Rival
Republicans circled for blood, and not one but two World War II heroes—Douglas
MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower—loomed in the pack. The author fields each of
these competing components deftly, building one on top of the other to weave a
coherent, compelling narrative that illuminates the time while also raising implications for
today’s political climate (as noted here, 1948 was the first time that television became a
factor in politics). Much of the intrigue and brinkmanship involved in those party
conventions of old has transformed, but the political considerations and closed-door
dealing shaping potential nominees remain salient as ever. What the reader learns here
is that the long-term veneer that often sticks to political figures always clouds the reality.
And understanding what actually transpired is not only more important, but also far more

A skillful, authoritative investigation into one of the most famous presidential elections in
U.S. history.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1402767487
Page count: 520pp
Publisher: Union Square/Sterling
Kirkus Reviews Logo