The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s

The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s

An original and penetrating assessment of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, showing Ike’s enormous influence on modern America, the Cold War, and on the presidency itself.In a 2017 survey, presidential historians ranked Dwight D. Eisenhower fifth on the list of great presidents, behind the perennial top four: Lincoln, Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt. H...

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Title:The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s
Author:William I. Hitchcock
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The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s Reviews

  • Brent

    I really like this balanced, well-researched new biography of the Eisenhower presidency. Coverage of diplomacy and politics is top-notch. Coverage of civil rights is rich, and, like Eisenhower's own view, could be richer. But the use of archival resources is deep, especially pertaining to intelligence uncovered in recent decades.

    Eisenhower reminds me in many ways of my mother's father, newspaper reporter and editor Wright Bryan, who Eisenhower awarded the Medal of Freedom. This author, historian

    I really like this balanced, well-researched new biography of the Eisenhower presidency. Coverage of diplomacy and politics is top-notch. Coverage of civil rights is rich, and, like Eisenhower's own view, could be richer. But the use of archival resources is deep, especially pertaining to intelligence uncovered in recent decades.

    Eisenhower reminds me in many ways of my mother's father, newspaper reporter and editor Wright Bryan, who Eisenhower awarded the Medal of Freedom. This author, historian William Hitchcock takes the extensive literature on what we assume to be quiet, "Happy Days" and provides the context for Eisenhower's successes (armistice in Korea, middle-of-the road policies) and failures (CIA assassinations, spy planes, and hi-jinks, Richard Nixon, Joseph McCarthy).

    Highly recommended.

  • ALLEN

    In my opinion this biography is the right thing at the right time, and a joy to read. Unlike other popular biographies, William I. Hitchcock's

    does not linger on Ike's upbringing and military service: indeed, a mere 46 pages of text take us up to his 60th birth year, when he's retired from the Army, President of Columbia University, and seriously mulling running for President on the Republican ticket in 1952. Ike's candidacy and two admin

    In my opinion this biography is the right thing at the right time, and a joy to read. Unlike other popular biographies, William I. Hitchcock's

    does not linger on Ike's upbringing and military service: indeed, a mere 46 pages of text take us up to his 60th birth year, when he's retired from the Army, President of Columbia University, and seriously mulling running for President on the Republican ticket in 1952. Ike's candidacy and two administrations -- and John F. Kennedy's ensuing debt to Eisenhower, for good and bad, in foreign and domestic policy -- occupy the rest of the book. I count it a plus that Ike's pretty English chauffeur, Kay Summersby, rates only a brief mention here and is not subject to the "Did they or didn't they" dithering of some earlier womb-to-tomb bios.

    Author Hitchcock, aided by recent research and declassifications, gets into areas of Ike's two presidential terms that are usually covered only sketchily in other mainstream biographies: I was especially impressed by his handling of the Emmett Till case in the context of domestic race relations, and the details given to two CIA-inspired (and Eisenhower-approved) military overthrows of democratic, civilian governments in 1953 in Guatemala and Iran, the two heads of state overthrown being thought too "pink" for CIA tastes. While the author is clearly in tune with Ike's moderation, his so-called "Modern Republicanism," he does deplore the extent to which the President equipped the new CIA, put John Foster Dulles' brilliant but erratic brother Allan at the top, and maintained a policy of "plausible deniability" when the CIA shifted into regime change. In effect, "The Agency" quickly became a subtle and insidious "Covert War Department" virtually free from Congressional control.

    It is with more sympathy that the author views the foreign-policy irony of Eisenhower's second term: the aging President was partly the victim of his own success, making his foreign-policy efforts look so effortless, when with half-a-century's hindsight they clearly weren't. Ike's cleverness in maintaining an anti-Communist tone while avoiding armed conflict, compounded by his celebrated ability to make the very difficult look easy, set up some easy carping from the Democrats that led straight to the 1960 Presidential election. In 1958 Senator John F. Kennedy, making hay of the periodic flap of two small Taiwanese islands near the Chinese mainland, opined: "We have teetered on the brink of foreign wars no American wants or can explain," after which Hitchcock appends: "commented Senator Kennedy, a future architect of America's war in Vietnam." In the spring of 1960, when Francis Gary Power's covert U-2 surveillance flight over the U.S.S.R. was shot down, two different agencies in Ike's administration lied about it using two different -- and incompatible -- cover stories. This did not guarantee Kennedy's presidential win over Richard Nixon later that year, but it did add credence to the notion that fresh blood was needed in the White House.

    I think that THE AGE OF EISENHOWER is going to be the go-to in modern one-volume history of Eisenhower's Presidency for some time to come. While not afraid to sound Ike out on the missteps, Hitchcock establishes very well Eisenhower's considerable achievements (not least of them keeping the USA out of major wars) -- and effectively rebutting the lingering charge that Ike stared down the "green fairways of indifference" during his two terms. This book doesn't exactly crackle with humor, but Hitchcock does bring to his skillful and adroit narrative a hawk eye for irony, and knows how to integrate reminiscence and anecdote without distracting from the main course of events. It is true that Hitchcock fast-forwards over the first 60 years of the soldier/statesman's life, but we already have Jean Edward Smith's well-wrought EISENHOWER IN WAR AND PEACE (2013), which is an excellent foundation for the youth and military career of "DDE."

    After reading this well researched and often brilliantly incisive volume, most readers will surely agree with William Hitchcock's conclusion that:

    It is for us 21st-Century Americans to figure out what became of "Modern Republicanism," and where the virtues, such as they are, are to be found in the current GOP.

  • Nooilforpacifists

    An able, though unspectacular, biogeography, William Hitchcock touches lightly over most every significant event in President, not General, Eisenhower’s life. Oh, there’s a chapter devoted to his Kansas origins, his meteoric WWII ascent—which mostly serves to illustrate how Ike believed battle honors “cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead.” “It is impossible,” writes Hitchcock, “to imagine Patton or MacArthur sounding so mournful in this moment of high ho

    An able, though unspectacular, biogeography, William Hitchcock touches lightly over most every significant event in President, not General, Eisenhower’s life. Oh, there’s a chapter devoted to his Kansas origins, his meteoric WWII ascent—which mostly serves to illustrate how Ike believed battle honors “cannot hide in his memories the crosses marking the resting places of the dead.” “It is impossible,” writes Hitchcock, “to imagine Patton or MacArthur sounding so mournful in this moment of high honor or deflecting the proffered acclaim onto the hallowed memory of fallen soldiers.”

    That Ike came from humble roots did not spoil the fact that he was a near-charter member of Augusta golf club. Ike believed free-market capitalism brought the cream—himself included—to the surface:

    “Although they behaved like elitists, retreating behind a high wall of wealth and privilege, they held themselves up as proof that pedigree was no requirement for success in America.”

    This did not make Ike a believer in “supply-side” economics. The last President to have three balanced budgets, he would have been horrified at Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts.

    Hitchcock gives Ike a bit of a pass on his McCarty-era betrayal of General George Marshall. Perhaps, but I don’t buy it.

    The author oversells Ike’s Civil Rights record. True, he did send Federal troops to desegregate schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. And he did meet once with Black leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, albeit reluctantly. Otherwise, Ike forever regretted nominating the (hidden liberal) Earl Warren as Chief Justice—and Warren was the prime mover behind Brown v. Board of Education. One suspects Hitchcock concentrated overmuch on Fredrick Morrow, the only Black member of Ike’s White House staff. Plus, the book contains at least a half dozen newspaper quotes praising Ike’s forward-looking racial policies—without revealing that each quoted paper catered exclusively to Black audiences.

    As a long-time soldier, it was inevitable that Ike would be most involved with, and most remembered for, foreign policy. Most crucially, he never swayed from an unabashed Cold Warrior. Prosperity at home was part of his message to the newly independent Third World—democracy was an alternative to Communism. As Hitchcock portrays it, Ike’s humiliation of the British, French and Israelis in the Suez Crisis was no mere pique at being lied to: Ike, and CIA Chief Allen Dulles, each thought the carrot a more effective tool against Nasser and other potentially pro-Soviet states (such as Venezuela) than the stick (all too likely to force the undecideds into the Russian camp).

    Yet Ike’s greatest contribution to the Cold War also was his most clandestine. During his Presidency, the CIA, with Ike’s full (plausibly deniable) knowledge, became specialists is U.S. funded, nominally locally originated, coups to topple any leader the CIA thought leaned Red. It worked in Guatemala, in Iran, South Vietnam, etc. These countries turned away from Moscow—but hardly became functioning democracies, despite billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

    Ike’s addiction to Black Ops led directly to the U-2 incident, when the Soviets shot down a U.S. spy plane, recovering its pilot, and the aircraft, which the pilot inexplicably failed to destroy. This led to a Keystone Cops series of press releases, where the U.S. tried to claim the plane wasn’t over the USSR, it was a weather plane, etc. But it was two weeks before a four powers summit, and when Khrushchev finally paraded plane and pilot before the press, Ike did something that forever endeared him to the spook profession: he told the truth, saying the decision to to authorize the flight was his. Veracity certainly is a valued quality in a leader, but the traditional response when caught red-handed is to blame a subordinate and fire him—CIA head Dulles, for example. Khrushchev, in fact expected this; when Ike proved less-than-diplomatic, the Soviet Premier torpedoed the summit.

    “It was easy enough to blame Khrushchev for the summit’s failure, but Eisenhower too bore responsibility, which he refused to accept.…As for his role in approving the overflight at such a critical moment, he expressed no regret. ‘I know of no decision I would make differently.’… The downing of the spy plane had a huge impact on his Presidency and the cold war itself. It shattered his hopes to bring about a thaw in the war, thereby robbing him of a brilliant achievement in his last month’s in office… And it provided his domestic rivals with powerful ammunition to use against him and his handling of the Cold War. In retrospect his decision to approve U-2 overflights in the spring of 1960 was the biggest mistake he ever made.”

    Reporters then, and historians until recently, discounted Eisenhower as at best a care-taking golfer President; at worst a fool in over his head. My how things have changed. In many lists of Best Presidents, Ike’s up there in the top 10, somewhere between Reagan and Polk.

    I would not place this book nearly as high in lists of Presidential bios. Yet, to be fair, too many books about Ike focus on Ike-the-soldier-politician, not Ike-the-political-soldier. I only wish the writing consistently was more grabbing.

  • Cynthia

    Hitchcock’s biography of Eisenhower is a good blend of Eisenhower’s political and personal life, his military and his public careers though the personal takes a back seat. As is required for such a story Hitchcock’s style is fact driven which comes across as less intimate though Eisenhower’s warmth and relatability for many people insured his success. It’s easy to write him off as a popular war hero who traded on that talent to go even higher but behind his kind uncle facade he was an intelligen

    Hitchcock’s biography of Eisenhower is a good blend of Eisenhower’s political and personal life, his military and his public careers though the personal takes a back seat. As is required for such a story Hitchcock’s style is fact driven which comes across as less intimate though Eisenhower’s warmth and relatability for many people insured his success. It’s easy to write him off as a popular war hero who traded on that talent to go even higher but behind his kind uncle facade he was an intelligent, driven man with strong principles.

    The Nixon sideshow is funny (at this distance) as is the inside view of Eisenhower the general transformed himself into Eisenhower he world leader. It’s almost like he was a stealth intellectual. From his religious roots from a family of four boys in Abilene, KS Where he was taught the value of hard work and tenaciousness, lessons that would serve him throughout his life, to his average student record at West Point. He seemed to make the most of whatever he encountered and turned it into success but he never lost his humanity. It’s almost aberrant in this ego driven world to learn about a man who respected his positions rather than using them as a platform for face time.

    Thank you to the publisher for providing an ecopy.

  • Cheyne

    Well written narrative of Eisenwhower’s presidential years with many of the different issues he confronted, including the numerous covert operations undertaken by his administration. Not a traditional biography as it covers very little of pre or post presidency or family life.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    Ike's presidency and the 1950s is the story of the dog that didn't bark. I have a quote from a friend and colleague who once said: "If you do a good job, no one will think you did anything at all."

    That is the story of the fifties. If baby boomers remember it with nostalgia it is because they were children. The world was a pretty dark and scary place and the reason we think wistfully of the fifties is that Ike was competent enough and lucky enough to steer the country on troubled waters with a

    Ike's presidency and the 1950s is the story of the dog that didn't bark. I have a quote from a friend and colleague who once said: "If you do a good job, no one will think you did anything at all."

    That is the story of the fifties. If baby boomers remember it with nostalgia it is because they were children. The world was a pretty dark and scary place and the reason we think wistfully of the fifties is that Ike was competent enough and lucky enough to steer the country on troubled waters with a steady hand WWIII didn't happen on his watch which is no mean feat given the times. This is not to say it was all good. Many on the left like me remember Arbenz in Guatemala and Mossedeg in Iran, lack of political courage in the face of a demagogue like McCarthy. His court brought about Brown v. Board of Ed and he didn't get in the way of civil rights which is to his credit and called out the national guard when segregationist governors did. I'd say that comparing Ike to later presidents he is looking fairly competent and for a Republican, his kind no longer exist. Very good history of the fifties and Ike's Presidency.

  • Casey Wheeler

    I received a free Kindle copy of The Age of Eisenhower by William Hitchcock courtesy of Net Galley  and Simon and Schuster, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

    I requested this book as I have read a number of biographies on American Presidents including Dwight David Eisenhower. It is the first book by Will

    I received a free Kindle copy of The Age of Eisenhower by William Hitchcock courtesy of Net Galley  and Simon and Schuster, the publisher. It was with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and my fiction book review blog. I also posted it to my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus pages.

    I requested this book as I have read a number of biographies on American Presidents including Dwight David Eisenhower. It is the first book by William Hitchcock that I have read.

    The book focuses on Eisenhower and the 1950's, although it does give some additional background prior to and after that time span. The book is very researched and focuses on debunking the myth that Ike simply strolled through the years he was President by playing golf and having a laid back personality. The reality is very different as pointed out in a number of other biographies on Einsenhower. I found the author's writing style a bit dense so this biography was not quite as enjoyable a read as others I have read.

    I recommend this biography, especially if you have not read one on Eisenhower prior to this one, but you may want to weigh getting a copy from your local library first before considering a purchase.

  • Scott  Hitchcock

    3.5*'s

    A very well done piece on Ike's presidency. It's hard these days to imagine a liberal Republican but Ike would have qualified. It's also a shocking reminder that in that time period they were considering nukes as just another bomb. Eisenhower was definitely a complicated individual and his battles with Khrushchev in particular were interesting. It's funny how time has refocused how effective a president he was.

  • Brian Eshleman

    Mostly Eisenhower rather than “age of.“ Has the feel of a breezy biography in spite of its length.

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