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American Caesar by William Manchester
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Oct 14, 2008

it was amazing

In the paperback edition of "American Caesar" that I read, one of the blurbs that's quoted falls back on the old cliche that this biography reads like a novel.
It's a tempting description for such a gripping book, but William Manchester's biography in reality is nothing like a novel. For one thing, no novelist would dare invent such an enigmatic character as Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
At one point, Manchester describes MacArthur walking onto a Pacific island during World War II, just behind the first wave of American soldiers. His aides are wary; he strides forward indifferently. A lieutenant touches his shoulder and tells him they just killed a Japanese sniper over there a few minutes ago. "Fine," MacArthur says. "That's the best thing to do with them." And he walks on in that direction.
Who could make up a character like that?
I was particularly glad to read this biography after having recently read "The Coldest Winter," about the Korean conflict; and "Truman!" about President Truman. Both deal with MacArthur only during the Korean conflict, and he comes across as a one-dimensional, fatally flawed, hyper-egotistical figure.
He certainly was flawed and egotistical. But there was so much more to MacArthur, as becomes clear in "American Caesar." He was a brilliant military leader whose greatest triumph was as the peacetime administrator of postwar Japan. He was a man of rare, even foolhardy, courage. As he demanded loyalty, he was also stubbornly loyal.
Manchester was a great biographer. He had all the necessary attributes: a first-rate reporter, a first-rate historian, a first-rate writer. His description of MacArthur pacing his balcony on the eve of Pearl Harbor is classic. I don't think anyone other than Manchester could have captured such a complex and controversial man as MacArthur nearly so well.
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