I own and have read several biographies of Harry Truman,and this is by far the best of them all. David McCullough's style is conversational, personable, and this great American story draws you in as if you were living near Independence, MO at the turn of the twentieth century.
Harry Truman was an unusual breed of leader, but one that was quintessential of our Midwest: sturdy, hard working, pious and ever optimistic of this country. Though he is the only president who didn't go to college, he had the intellectual capacity and insight of a man trained in a college setting. He knew what he didn't know and he knew how to learn and when to use the knowledge of others. He also gained an incomparable 'trial by fire' when he served in France during the Great War, giving him an insight into warfare that few others would have who ran the later war.
Life trained him for the high office he'd one day assume. He lived for many years in the home of his difficult mother in law, who never thought he was worthy. He lost a business, lost his family farm to foreclosure, and knew nothing but failure until he entered politics. Though he owed his position in local politics and the Senate to the corrupt Pendergast machine, he remained personally honest.
He rightly was terrified on entering the presidency, but approached the job as one who was used to wielding the levers of power on a global stage. Although it isn't known if he knew the cost of lives in dropping the atomic bomb, we do know he slept well. And although he at first miscalculated Soviet postwar intentions, he didn't hesitate to lay the groundwork of containment and the apparatus he set in motion would eventually help in the collapse of Soviet communism. He also made the right choices in coming to the aid of Berlin and in recognizing the state of Israel when no one else would.
Despite a volcanic temper and petty feelings, he was a man who rose to the occasion of his time. He filled the shoes of his office, and in many ways set the tone of the Cold War which many would follow with differing variations. He also is known for coming from behind in a four way race in 1948, winning reelection when none thought he could. The Marshall Plan, NATO, losing China, McCarthyism, the Korean War, each of them with memories to last a lifetime, but all of them took place in the short span of his second term. And when the time came for him to give up power, citizen Truman gladly returned to his beloved house on Delaware Street in Independence. His is the story of how a leader can do what he can to make the world a better place, and at the end of the day he can go home and walk with his head held high knowing he did all he could to preserve his country and freedom everywhere.
Although my politics are different than his were, I do believe America was blessed to have this man as it's leader in one of our most trying times. America does seem to have been blessed with extraordinary leaders for extraordinary times, and a seemingly ordinary man entered the pantheon of greatness, and showed us how it's done.