A small history discussion group I belong to chose Dwight Eisenhower as our next topic. Having previously read and enjoyed Jean Edward Smith's Grant IA small history discussion group I belong to chose Dwight Eisenhower as our next topic. Having previously read and enjoyed Jean Edward Smith's Grant I chose to read his biography of Ike.
Smith certainly seems qualified to write about Eisenhower, having written previous biographies of his contemporaries Franklin Roosevelt and Lucius Clay, plus the aforementioned of Ulysses Grant biography. Eisenhower, Grant, and Washington are the only three generals turned two-term presidents in US history.
This hefty single volume of 950 pages (766 of them the main text) includes some good photos scattered through the book and a few useful maps. The World War II portion covers a little over 250 pages and the presidency a little over 200.
One of Smith's greatest strengths is that he is very readable. I read this book at a pretty steady pace of more than 50 pages a day. Much of it is a pretty balanced treatment and Smith is not afraid to criticize his subject. I read a review of this book that felt Smith wasn't critical enough about Eisenhower's presidency. I agree it could have been a bit more critical, but it wasn't an apologist whitewash either. An astute reader can certainly notice places where one could be more critical of Ike's actions and decisions even if Smith doesn't make a critical comment himself.
Weaknesses of this book are a few parts that seem repetitive and Smith's overuse of footnotes. I would say about a 1/3 were good footnotes, 1/3 probably belonged in the main text, and a 1/3 could be dropped entirely. Smith also goes a little overboard with references and comparisons to Grant. Oddly, he also misses the most obvious place to make a Grant-Eisenhower comparison: in regards to Ike's contingency message accepting blame for the failure of D-Day, he compares it to Lincoln's contingency message regarding his reelection bid in 1864. A better comparison would have been Grant's letter to Lincoln at the start of the Overland Campaign accepting in advance blame for any failure of the campaign.
I would call this a solid biography of Dwight Eisenhower and worth a read for anyone interested in him....more
I heard about this book in a couple places then picked it up when I saw it on my library's bookshelf. I was a little uncertain about reading it and afI heard about this book in a couple places then picked it up when I saw it on my library's bookshelf. I was a little uncertain about reading it and after the first chapter I wasn't sure if I would finish it. It got put down and picked up several times as higher priority books got in the way. But in the end I did finish it.
This isn't a bad book, but it is a little erratic. Some parts were fascinating, some parts dull. A few parts, particularly that first chapter I mentioned, felt depressing. But this is not what I feared it might be: it doesn't have a typical political slant and it isn't angry. The author is a West Point grad and Vietnam veteran turned International Relations professor with a doctorate from Princeton. Just when I thought I might have his political leanings figured out he throws a curveball, right down to the final chapter. And while very critical this book isn't angry or consistently depressing. Halfway through a chapter titled "Blood For Oil" it occurred to me this is the sort of thing I wish Gore Vidal had written a decade ago when I was slogging through his then-current political works.
"New American Militarism" essentially asks the following: how American's military policy get from where it was in 1975 (after Vietnam) to where it was in 2005 (after the invasion of Iraq). He gives a long look at neoconservationism, evangelism, and military itself among other things. There are also brief glances at the lingering effects of the policies of Woodrow Wilson and FDR. I'd be curious to see if and how this book might have been different if written in 2008 or 2012 rather than 2005. I also feel like more comparison could have been done with the pre-Vietnam era.
While I can't give this a full five stars, this is a really insightful book that I strongly recommend. His dissection of the principles of neocoservativism was especially impressive to me, reminding me of a similiar breakdown in The Anatomy of Fascism. (I mean that in the style of the breakdown more than similiarities between the two, although there are some.) Bacevich leaves the best punch for last by offering a ten point plan to improve the situation. I don't think any of his ideas have been implemented and, while I don't agree with all of them, I think they are all still worth considering. They could themselves be the subject of a book-length treatment....more
It doesn't seem like groundbreaking research related to the Civil War would possible 150 years after the fact, but Alfred Young has managed to do justIt doesn't seem like groundbreaking research related to the Civil War would possible 150 years after the fact, but Alfred Young has managed to do just that. Confederate records were usually not as good as their Union counterparts and that holds especially true for the Overland Campaign. The author has done painstaking research using personnel records, regimental histories, and newspaper reports to get a more accurate count of the unit strengths, reinforcements, and casualties in the Army of Northern Virginia in May and June 1864.
The book is divided into several parts: brigade summaries (190 pages), brigade casualty tables (110 pages), brigade-level (and in a few cases regiment-level) maps for all the battles of the campaign (43 pages), and the introduction & conclusion (less than 40 pages), plus order of battle, endnotes, and index.
This is book is a little difficult book to rate. The research is A+ and the author even makes it clear where there are questions and gaps. The extensive tables will be a go-to reference source for anyone writing on this campaign. The maps are by George Skotch who also did the maps for Gordon Rhea's Overland Campaign quadrilogy; I don't know if they have been updated or expanded. The brigade summaries are okay and expand upon the data, but not remarkable reading. This is a book is not for a general audience, but is quite good at what it wants to be....more
This is a bit of an odd book. The title is a little misleading since it focuses on Sheridan in 1864-65, only skimming over his service in the WesternThis is a bit of an odd book. The title is a little misleading since it focuses on Sheridan in 1864-65, only skimming over his service in the Western Theater. It is not a true biography of Sheridan, not even of those years. It is almost in the style of an essay compilation (especially since it is not all chronological), except that there is more flow between chapters. The author suggests you should draw your own conclusions, but his opinion is fairly clear.
The first three chapters are in a fairly linear structure: Sheridan's service through 1863, Sheridan's actions as cavalry corps commander during the Overland Campaign, and his army command in the Shenandoah. The book then delves into a narrower focus on Sheridan's flaws: his insubordination, his damaged relationship with Crook and his relieving Averell and Warren of their commands, and his lying for personal gain. Wittenberg wraps up with praise for Sheridan's performance during the Appomattox Campaign and a conclusion summarizing his criticisms of Sheridan.
Wittenberg clear isn't a fan of Sheridan, but as someone who is arguably the modern authority on Union cavalry in Virginia during the Civil War he is certainly qualified to hold a strong opinion on such matters. While I think the author is making many valid points of criticism it seems like he blames Little Phil for a little too much. For example, how much of Sheridan's caution in the Valley was due to guerillas like Mosby? This isn't really addressed in this book, but it factors in to some of Sheridan's actions. Likewise, the relief of Averell and Warren doesn't seem completely unreasonable as both had some skills but were arguably cautious to a fault; the real issue seems to be the timing of their relief and the hypocrisy involved (Sheridan's failure to relieve other subordinates like Torbert).
The book raises some questions in my mind that were perhaps mostly beyond the scope of the work. Grant's arguably undeserved favoritism toward Sheridan reminded me of recent criticism I have read of James McPherson. Sheridan's elevation to major cavalry command with minimal previous cavalry experience has always struck me as unusual and a comparison of other generals who received similiar promotions probably has some merit. I also wondered how Sheridan's post-war leadership compares to what he did during the war, and how the war affected his post-war service.
This is a book that is probably worth reading because it provides an interesting perspective on Phil Sheridan, but it also feels a little incomplete and doesn't seem like Wittenberg's best writing....more