Harry S. Truman The American Presidents Series: The 33rd President, 1945-1953

The American Presidents

Robert Dallek; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

Times Books




208 Pages



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In April 1945, after the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the presidency fell to a former haberdasher and clubhouse politician from Independence, Missouri who himself never expected to become the Commander in Chief. Many believed he would be overmatched by the job, but Harry S. Truman would surprise them all.

Few chief executives have had so lasting an impact. Truman ushered America into the nuclear age, established the alliances and principles that would define the cold war and the national security state, started the nation on the road to civil rights, and won the most dramatic election of the twentieth century—his 1948 “whistlestop campaign” against Thomas E. Dewey.

Robert Dallek, the bestselling biographer of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, shows how this unassuming yet supremely confident man rose to the occasion. Truman clashed with Southerners over civil rights, with organized labor over the right to strike, and with General Douglas MacArthur over the conduct of the Korean War. He personified Thomas Jefferson’s observation that the presidency is a “splendid misery,” but it was during his tenure that the United States truly came of age.


Praise for Harry S. Truman

"A part of Times Book The American Presidents series, Harry S, Truman brings one of the most defining American presidents of the 20th century to the forefront . . . Harry S. Truman is an important book for those interested in why America, and the modern world, is the way it is."—Sacramento Book Review

"In this political season when politicians pose as 'folksy,' when one of the most unpopular presidents in history is preparing to leave office, it is interesting to return to another folksy politician who was also one of the most unpopular presidents of his time. But it must be noted that President Harry S. Truman, with his 'give ’em hell' everyman charm and his Missouri roots, supervised the conclusion of World War II, made the tough decision to use the atomic bomb to decisively end the war with Japan, pushed to rebuild Japan and Europe as allies of the U.S., faced down the Russians and began the containment policy that led to 50 years of Cold War and eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. That’s the view from our times on his. In his times, Truman was seen more as the president who led the U.S. into the 'police-action' war of Korea that left thousands of Americans dead without accomplishing much and various other political missteps, such as losing a Democratic Congress to the Republicans. In this volume of The American Presidents series, Robert Dallek spends the majority of this 150-page book on Truman’s presidency. He gives only 18 pages to the young Missouri man who fought in World War I, was a failed haberdasher, became a cog in a Missouri political machine, survived the dismantling of that machine, made a name for himself as a Congressmen, was tapped as the next vice president for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and ascended to the presidency when FDR died—that’s a crowded 18 pages. So, there is little to explain what made Truman the president he was, but Dallek delves deep into what made Truman’s presidency. Dallek is best known for his critically acclaimed two-volume biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson: Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant . . . Dallek provides a concise and intimate look at a president who defied the popularity polls of his day to leave an indelible mark on history."—Dean Poling, The Valdosta Daily Times

"Acclaimed presidential historian Robert Dallek reveals how a Missouri farmer and failed businessman found himself in the White House following the death of Franklin Roosevelt. Truman surprised supporters and critics alike when he brought an end to WWII and handled his power with intelligence and grace. This is the highly readable history of one of the most important presidents of the 20th century. Few chief executives have had so lasting an impact as our 33rd president."—Larry Cox, Tucson Citizen

"Noted presidential biographer Dallek turns his skilled pen to the man from Independence. In brisk prose and with the confidence of his vast knowledge of the era, Dallek interprets the life of the simple man who, having unexpectedly and with little experience assumed the presidency when FDR died, surprised everyone by so skillfully shouldering huge burdens. In his day, that meant ending the war with Japan (by authorizing the bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki), ordering American troops to repel the invasion of Korea, firing Douglas MacArthur and facing down the Soviets. It also meant protecting the New Deal from erosion, dealing with striking labor and taking unprecedented steps to desegregate the government and armed forces. Just listing these achievements makes clear why Dallek, like other historians, places Truman high on the list of American presidents. Like so many other biographies in the splendid American Presidents series, Dallek's little book is now the best starting point for knowledge of Truman's life and for an astute assessment of his career."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One  

Preludes  Of the eighteen twentieth-century American presidents, beginning with William McKinley and ending with Bill Clinton, only four currently have claims on great or near- great leadership: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

Perhaps in time Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton may join this elite group, but at this juncture such a judgment is premature.

On the face of things, Truman’s high standing is surprising. Unlike the two Roosevelts and Wilson—whom nobody would describe by background and education
Read the full excerpt



  • Harry S. Truman by Robert Dallek--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Robert Dallek's biography Harry S. Truman, about the plainspoken man from Missouri who never expected to be president yet rose to become one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century. Few chief executives have had so lasting an impact.



  • Robert Dallek; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Sean Wilentz, General Editors

  • Robert Dallek is the author of several bestselling presidential histories, including Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power; An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963; and the classic two-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, Lone Star Rising and Flawed Giant. He has taught at Columbia, Oxford, UCLA, Boston University, and Dartmouth, and has won the Bancroft Prize, among numerous other awards for scholarship and teaching. He lives in Washington, D.C.

  • Robert Dallek Geraldine Dallek
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Dominique Nabokov