Mini-Reviews #10

February 20, 2012

Another batch of mini-reviews, this time the American History version:

Eisenhower in War and Peace – Jean Edward Smith

I was born in 1978, well after the era of Dwight David Eisenhower. So prior to this book he was only known to me from history books and a cursory knowledge of WWII. But I have always been interested in this man whose life and leadership impacted much of 20th century American life.

Jean Edward Smith delivers a fair, honest portrayal of perhaps the last genuine American hero, a man cut from the cloth of a different era. What is so interesting about Eisenhower’s life and leadership is that perhaps his only exceptional skill was his ability to navigate tough politics. This proved invaluable as Supreme Allied Commander and as President. Eisenhower’s reputation as a hero gave him the stature to make tough decisions, to bring diverse and unbending egos together for greater missions.

As a military man, he was the benefit of much “luck” (or I would say Divine Providence) in moving swiftly up the ranks of the military to assume top positions such as Supreme Allied Commander, Army Chief of Staff, NATO Commander. He was the architect of the D-Day Invasion.

Jean Smith weaves together a remarkably interesting story, including Eisenhower’s hard-scrabble upbringing, the tensions in his marriage, his seeming (though unproven) affair with Kay Summersby, his military successes and failures, and his term as President. Readers will enjoy this fascinating biography and come away with many leadership lessons. Men of Eisenhower’s stature come around once every generation. And today American could use a few more men with the leadership skills of Dwight David Eisenhower.

You might also be interested in the leadership lessons I learned from Eisenhower

A Team For America, The Army-Navy Game that Rallied a Nation – Randy Roberts

I’m a sucker for WWII history and so I jumped at the opportunity to review A Team for America. This is a fascinating read, delivering unknown details about military football life during World War II. This is full of interesting biographies of the coaches involved, the players who played for these coaches and the importance of these games. Football seems irrelevant during a time of war–and many political leaders advocated the shutdown of the programs at West Point and the Naval Academy–but guys like General Eisenhower and McArthur insisted the programs remain to help build unit cohesiveness in the men about to go to war and to stimulate the moral of the country.

I enjoyed the intricate breakdown of football as it was played back in the 1940’s–a much different game than today. I also appreciate the little known historical facts. For instance, most Division 1 college football programs were shuttered, because the men were all going off to war. So the military established partnerships with the colleges to enable some of them to both train men for war and continue their football programs. Also, a fun fact was the decision by the Army to limit travel. So for instance, during one key game, the Army ordered several of its men to dress up like the Navy cheerleaders and band and cheer for Navy. Imagine how awkward that must have been.

Overall this book gives a terrific history of the game of football and it’s impact on a nation at war. It’s an enjoyable read.

Then Everything Changed, Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics – Jeff Greenfield

“History doesn’t turn on a dime, it turns on a plug-nickel”, says political pundit and historian Jeff Greenfield. I was browsing an old bookshop while away on a retreat with my wife recently and I decided to download it to my Nook. I’m a sucker for American Presidential history.

Essentially Greenfield takes three pivitotal moments in American history. First, the little known near-death for president-elect John F. Kennedy. A suicide bomber nearly killed the would-be president as he walked out of a house in Florida. What saved JFK was the fact that his wife and child sent him off, appearing at the door. The assassin had a fit of consience about killing a woman and child (but, strangely, nothing guilted him about killing a husband and father). But what if Jackie had not appeared at the door that day, how might have history changed?

Then Greenfield revisits the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in LA on the night of the California Democratic primary. It was a fateful, last-minute decision to take Robert F. Kennedy through the kitchen instead of the ballroom that cost RFK his life. What if his assistant had gone with RFK and spotted Sir Han Sir Han and thwarted the attempt? What if they had routed RFK through the ballroom?

Lastly, he takes us to the pivotal debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Ford was mounting a serious comeback, but a terrible faux pas at this debate and Ford’s inability to recover may have stunted Ford’s momentum and history may have looked different.

What’s interesting about this book is just how fragile history is? How might our country, our world look differently had a few key events gone another way? Now, Jeff Greenfield chalks this up to blind luck, the providence of fate, but as a believer I can see how God holds the events of history in his hand. This is a fascinating read.