The only thing I knew about Harry Truman before reading this book was a recollection of the famous picture of him holding up a newspaper that read "Dewey Defeats Truman."
I am amazed at Truman's hard work, integrity, and love of people. He wasn't perfect, of course, but there is much in this book to inspire. I never fully understood his contributions to the post-WWII world, such as the Marshall Plan, the Truman doctrine, containment of atomic bomb, containment of the Cold War, or his courageous decision to champion civil rights more than any president since Abraham Lincoln (up to Truman's time). He was consistently honest, courageous, loyal, and down-to-earth. He loved the "common guy" and championed labor, medicine, and education for all, even when these things were not popular. He wasn't afraid to be unpopular if it meant doing what was right. He was true to his friends and true to his wife. Most all who really knew him couldn't help but fall in love with his optimism, love of life, and kindness (visited one of his secret service agent's wives in the hospital after she had a baby-- he was kind, interested in all his staff).
His early life was interesting-- he had been through many disappointments but never stopped working hard, trying, or being optimistic. Interesting to see how he was raised as well-- with lots of books and love. A real endorsement of the American Dream to watch this farm boy go on to change the world.
In his adult life, his work ethic, devotion to family and friends, morality, optimism, courage, and ability to love and work for the common man were exemplary. It was said ego never got in his way, and pride or vanity didn't influence his decisions, but he did what he felt was right.
He had his flaws, and these are treated as candidly in the book as Truman treated them in real life. He never seemed to have anything to hide. (One famous flaw was his notoriously colorful language, supposedly picked up serving in WWI)
Interesting to see the difference between his personality and Roosevelt's-- whom he replaced. I left with an added respect for Truman and a lessening in my respect for Roosevelt (he had been one of my favorite presidents before reading this book).
It made me sad that the press and the country were so hard on him at times, and also that history has largely left him behind in favor of those who did play the political games. Amazing how not playing the games, not being a flashy or wealthy or vain president actually hurt his publicity in the long and short run, yet not, in my estimation, when one knows all the facts, as I now do!
I found this book just as inspirational and informative as McCullough's other books, yet this one did bog down in the middle. He still displays the gift for storytelling, yet its not quite as riveting as some of his other books. I found myself wishing he had abridged this a bit (992 pages--whew!), but when one considers the amount of work he put into this book, its length is forgivable. He spent 10 years writing this and delving into the massive amount of information available (1300 letters from Truman to his wife alone in a 30 year stretch). He also interviewed Truman's daughter and others who worked with Truman. Considering the subject and McCullough's work and talents I'd say the Pulitzer he received for his writing is well justified.
Inspiring and informative book.