A New York Times Notable Book
A bona-fide American hero at the close of World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower rode an enormous wave of popularity into the Oval Office seven years later. We may view the Eisenhower years through a hazy lens of nostalgia, but the good times of the 1950s distracted the public from a world in the throes of great transition, and masked profound unease both at home and abroad. Americans didn't seem to mind much that their fatherly president spent much of his time on the golf course with his wealthy businessman cronies, or that his health was suspect.
Veteran journalist Tom Wicker traces Eisenhower's life from his hardscrabble Kansas childhood, through his West Point years and his dramatic success during the war to his reluctant entry into politics. Throughout, we see a good and determined man—at times, says Wicker, a great man—who is remembered as much for his personal magnetism as for his aura of competence and command. And yet his tenure as chief executive can best be described as one of missed opportunities. His middle-of-the-road politics maintained the status quo, but never rose to the level of visionary leadership that could have led the country forward through uncertain times. He neglected the growing weaknesses in the once-robust economy. He stood aloof from the two great moral issues of 1950s America—school desegregation and McCarthyism. And though he was revered for "keeping the peace" during the height of the Cold War, he fumbled a golden opportunity to sign a comprehensive nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviet Union. In Wicker's words, "the worst did not happen in his time, but neither did the best. When he left office, the world was as divided and hostile, in some ways more so, than when he was elected."