Thursday, September 11, 2014

At Ease: Stories I Tell to My Friends by Dwight D. Eisenhower

Pile of books to review

Having read and reviewed a book about one of the British towering figures of the first half of the twentieth century(see review on Churchill),  I then read a book about one of our own, written by himself.

I read Eisenhower's biography in a 1830's log cabin deep in the heart of Texas twenty minutes southwest of Austin. It was June and extremely hot so afternoons were spent inside the cabin.  While I didn't suffer cabin fever (ha,ha) I did enjoy reading about the life of a great man.

Log Cabin in Kyle, Texas

Eisenhower wrote this book a couple of years before he died and after he became president, although he doesn't mention his presidency.  The book can be broken up into a couple of sections.  His childhood in Kansas and Texas.  His time at West Point, time spent in WWI and a little bit of time during WWII.  He states that he didn't feel the need to devote much time to the second war since he had written a whole book focusing on his time as General then.

His childhood is what we have come to know the greatest generation for.  Eisenhower first describes his parents upbringing and how those values shaped his own life.  People were poor back then and life was tough.  Electricity and running water were for the rich, not the common man until the forties and even fifties.  The hard work incurred from running a household from scratch involved everyone pulling their weight.

Ike has nothing but good memories of these times, however, and the greatest respect for his mother and father.  This was a time when families stuck it out, divorce was unheard of, and children came before career or status.

From Kansas, Eisenhower went to West Point.  It was surprising to me to find that he was not the stellar pupil there.  In fact, it took him a long time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.  The one thing that sustained him was coming from a family that didn't coddle him.  He could take the discipline and hardship that was imposed on him at the Academy.  Other students didn't fare so well.

He spent some time in Texas and in Panama where he read voraciously the books by Greek philosophers and trained a race horse.  He and another general developed a prototype of the tank but were scorned by the Army who saw no need for a tank in war- a short-sighted attitude if ever there was one.

Between wars he became president of Columbia University and helped develop it into a major college draw for brilliant young minds.

While not delving too heavily into WWII he does tell some amusing stories that happened overseas as well as his relationships with Generals Patton and MacArthur.  He gives an interesting perspective of Patton who apparently was quite flamboyant.  According to Ike, Patton love to push the envelop and say or do things grossly inappropriate just to get a rise out of other people, like foreign dignitaries.  This, of course, would cause considerable embarrassment to the Americans.  Ike would have to take Patton aside and reprimand him.  Patton would respond by throwing his arms around Ike and crying that he would never do it again.  Awkward.

Eisenhower also shares his philosophy about running a country successfully and protecting it against nations and people who are hostile to its freedoms.

The book is written in a friendly, chatty format, as though Ike is just sharing anecdotes to friends seated in his living room.  The stories run one into another and I doubt young readers today would get half way through it.  But it is invaluable to read the thoughts of one of the greatest men of the last one hundred years and the processes that made him great.  I fear the culture that produced men like Eisenhower has pretty much disappeared.


Brian Joseph said...

Thanks for this great review Sharon.

I have always admired Eisenhower. In terms of personality his greatness, as opposed to figures, like Churchill, seems so understated and humble.

I would be a bit disappointed that the book did not delve deeply into World war II and his Presidency, but I understand that was not the point of this biography.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian. I really admire Eisenhower as well. This book is still well worth reading even though he doesn't spend as much time on his years during the second world war. His reason was because he had written a whole book on just that subject called Crusade in Europe. Take care!

joy said...

Thanks for the suggestion- it is next on my reading list!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Joy. Thanks for visiting my blog. It's a wonderful book. I now want to get Eisenhower's book about WWII. Have a great day!