Eisenhower A Soldier's Life

Carlo D'Este

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880 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book

Born to hardscrabble poverty in rural Kansas, the son of stern pacifists, Dwight Daid Eisenhower graduated from high school more likely to teach history than to make it. With full access to his private papers and letters, Carlo D'Este, the bestselling author of Patton: A Genius for War, traces Eisenhower's meteoric rise to high command and identifies the complex and contradictor character behind Ike's famous grin and air of calm self-assurance.

After four years at West Point—where he jeopardized his career by repeatedly flouting academy rules—Ike graduated to the grim hardships of army postings in the South and Washington, D. C., and in the Philippines and the steamy jungles of Panama, which tested his sometimes troubled marriage as well as threatening his professional future. D'Este chronicles Ike's introduction to the inner sanctums of the War Department and Whitehall, his painful apprenticeship on the battlefields of the Mediteranean, the courageous D-Day decision, and the bloody and controversial battles of north-west Europe in 1944-1945.

For the first time D'Este dispels the myths that have surrounded Eisenhower and his family since he first became a public persona. With fresh insight, he probes Eisenhower's clashes with Montgomery and the British chiefs of staff, his enigmatic relations with Churchill, and his encounters with many legendary figures of the century including FDR, George C. Marshall, George S. Patton, and Charles de Gaulle. We learn also the truth behind his much-publicized romance with his wartime driver, Kay Summersby.

As the story of Eisenhower's life through V-E Day in 1945 is unveiled, it becomes evident that no amount of training or experience could have fully prepared him for the most challenging role given to any offtcer in World War II. His tenacious resolve to fight an allied war was the indispensable glue that made the joint military venture successtul. That he was equal to the task is now virtually taken for granted; however, during those desperate years nothing was certain.

Based on tive years of primary research, Carlo D'Este's riveting a appraisal reveals a man of surprising complexity: A born optimist who always expected to win, Eisenhower was also a master manipulator who often concealed an intelligence as sharp and icy as any. And in the hours before D-Day, beset with concern for his men, Ike seemed like the loneliest man in the world. As he remarked to Kay Summersby, "It's hard to look a soldier in the eye when you fear you are sending him to his death."


Praise for Eisenhower

"A refreshing attempt to understand the soldier . . . D'Este brings to his subject both a deep understanding of World War II and an unusual set of historical allegiances . . . He evokes the realities of command, the constraints and the unknowns."—Timothy Naftali, The New York Times Book Review

"D'Este's thorough research and careful analysis show us an Eisenhower feeling his way into command."—Chicago Tribune

"A distinguished historian of World War II . . . Not only a breezy read but a thought-provoking one too."—The Wall Street Journal

"Masterly . . . scrupulously fair and perceptive."—Anthony Beevor, The Washington Post Book World

"Remarkable and compelling . . . D'Este shows the man behind the image."—Steven Martinovich, The Christian Science Monitor

"By re-examining the experiences of Eisenhower, Mr. D'Este contributes to a significant but generally neglected aspect of military history, and he has produced a worthwhile introduction to the military career of Eisenhower."—Robert Kim, The Sun (New York)

"Distinguished military historian Carlo D'Este has compiled what is likely to be considered the most comprehensive biography of Ike's martial career . . . D'Este intimate knowledge of the European war and the interaction among the senior members of the Allied high command make this biography both provocative and entertaining."—Col. Cole C. Kingseed, Army magazine

"A master historian of World War II, Carlo D'Este has written the book about General Eisenhower's military career. It is solidly researched, written in a fast paced style, and perceptively analyzed."—Edward M. Coffman, author of The War to End All Wars

"Carlo D'Este, a relentless researcher and wonderful writer, has produced a first-rate biography of Eisenhower, the soldier, as well as a masterful account of the European side of World War II from the Supreme Allied Commander's view."—Martin Blumenson, author of Patton: The Man Behind the Legend

"I can't imagine anyone interested in World War II passing up this book. It's unquestionably a definitive treatment of one of the most important soldiers in America's history."—Thomas Fleming, author of The New Dealers' War and Duel

"D'Este structures his biography of Eisenhower around his career as an officer. He specifically concentrates on Eisenhower's 'apprenticeship' in the 1920s and 1930s and his conduct as supreme Allied commander in Europe. Himself a former U.S. Army officer, D'Este has written a meticulously researched, professional appraisal of Eisenhower's military record, but readers need not fear that his narrative is as dry as an efficiency report. D'Este has built a premier and popular reputation as a military historian (e.g., Patton: A Genius for War, 1995) and enlivens Ike's story by recounting his competitive relationships with his brothers, his strained one with wife Mamie, and his gossip-producing liaison with wartime chauffeur Kay Summersby. Yet Ike's military performance is D'Este's primary concern, and he is not a cheerleader; he calls it 'miserable' in Tunisia in 1942-43. An expert on the Battle of Normandy, D'Este critiques Ike's strategy there, but improves his opinions of Ike's actions in ensuing controversies—and sympathizes with his abrasions with British generals Brooke and Montgomery. A weighty and significant contribution to Ikenography."—Booklist

"A lieutenant colonel at 50 with no military future ahead of him in the stifling between-the-wars promotion system, Eisenhower became, in little more than three years and three months, a five-star general. D'Este (Patton: A Genius for War) sees Ike's rise as predicated upon his having been recognized as 'the ultimate career bureaucrat he so disdained.' Never having had hands-on command of a unit in combat, Eisenhower would pay heavy prices for his inexperience. Yet D'Este seems to agree with General Omar Bradley that Ike lived an 'extraordinarily charmed life' on the basis of likability, desk-officer brilliance and the active patronage of influential men. Although D'Este, who carries Eisenhower's career only through victory in Europe in May 1945, leans heavily upon Russell Weigley's masterly Eisenhower's Lieutenants, he goes well beyond Weigley in indicting the supreme commander for so grossly playing favorites as to keep incompetents in major positions, for command indecision and indifference about such crucial dimensions of combat as logistics, and for a litany of strategic blunders that lengthened and raised the price of the war. He also attempts but fails to bypass the delicate matter of Eisenhower's attentions to his British chauffeur and aide, Kay Summersby. Although at first he contends loyally that their names would be 'wrongly' linked, later he notes that it was 'common knowledge among war correspondents that something was going on between them.' At the close, our knowledge of the future eminence of D'Este's flawed hero seems to validate the implied if reluctant verdict of a charmed life. Still, its dramatic objectivity about Eisenhower's significantly flawed career as a WWII commander will earn this volume attention and controversy."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

The noise was deafening. Eisenhower and the members of his party climbed onto the roof of the division headquarters to watch in silence as hundreds of aircraft and gliders lumbered into the rapidly darkening sky, again saluting as each aircraft...

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  • Carlo D'Este

  • Carlo D'Este, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a distinguished military historian, is the author of Patton: A Genius for War and three other books on World War II, all of which received high praise. He lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.