Aaron Arnold's Reviews > Truman

Truman by David McCullough
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Apr 10, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: politics, biography, history, read-in-2010
Read in January, 2010

I actually put this book down for months about halfway through, even though it made me respect Truman a lot more than I did before. Why didn't I race through it? You see, I had been recommended this book after reading Robert Caro's superlative The Years of Lyndon Johnson series, my current gold standard for biographies. Truman was a walk-on character in Caro's books but he seemed like an interesting guy, and David McCullough, who is a fairly well-known historian (the recent John Adams miniseries was an adaption of one of his many award-speckled works), won a Pulitzer in 1993 for this thousand-page epic. While it was a fairly impressive biography, I have a few nits to pick. Firstly, it skips over a lot of context that would really enrich the book, like more details of the fight over Truman's attempts to introduce national health insurance. Given that this defeat is still having tectonic effects on American politics, its relative neglect was unforgivable, and there were a few other points where I felt that McCullough was passing up the big picture. Secondly, at the same time it's chock full of minutiae that feel pointless, like McCullough is just tossing in diary entries for the heck of it. Obviously he's too talented of a historian to do that so maybe it's just me, but see for yourself. Thirdly, McCullough is extremely interested in the personal habits of a guy who, in my honest opinion, is just not that interesting. I came away thinking Truman was an upstanding guy and a good President, but he doesn't exactly leap off the page. Fourthly, McCullough tosses in just a bit too much of that eye-rolling stuff about how Midwesterners and their homespun small-town Missouri heartland values just can't cotton to those snake-eyed Yankee city boys from back East and blah blah blah. I can't stand that shit, even if apparently that's what Truman was actually like. So I found it simultaneously too brief and too bloated, without the soaring epochal arcs I had hoped for. But it was pretty good overall, and it was certainly faithful to its underrated subject.
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