Thursday, November 15, 2012


Truman, David McCullough, Simon & Schuster, 1992, 992 pp

I am 65 years old. I have spent my whole life thinking that politics was stupid and not worth knowing anything about; that even in a democracy, politics and therefore government offered no solution to the troubles of mankind. Now I have to eat at least some of my words and admit that as an American it is important for me to have a glimmering of how politics works. That is what reading this endless biography about Truman did for me.

I read it, in part, as research for my memoir. Harry S Truman was President the year I was born. I was inspired to read it because of a blog I discovered some months ago: At Times Dull. "In which Janet reads a biography of each American President in chronological order, learning things about America, its presidents, and the fact that the phrase 'at times dull' finds its way into every review of every presidential biography ever written." 

Janet has apparently had to turn her attention to making a living (she is a staff writer for The Millions.) She got as far as Abraham Lincoln and has not posted on her blog for several months. But her proposed reading list includes McCullough's biography of Truman. It was at many times dull.

Ever since I was a hippie and took a firm position as anti-war, I figured I had to hate Harry S Truman because it was his decision which unleashed two atomic bombs upon the world. Now my eyes have been pried open as to what factors lay behind that decision. Two realizations followed:

1) Truman inherited WWII in much the same way that Obama inherited a decimated economy and the War on Terror. When things get that screwed up, the options shrink in terms of making decisions.

2) Truman, at least as presented by McCullough, was one of the more qualified presidents we have had due to a large amount of sheer nerve and having an unshakable moral compass.

So I'm glad I read it, glad I persisted all the way to the end. I know there is always more to learn but it makes me happy when I actually do learn new things.

I still hold most of the views I've held but without a deeper understanding of how the world actually works, those views are just pipe dreams. I would not ever want to work in politics or be the President of the United States, but I am now more interested in being involved in determining the presidents we get. (Yes, I voted!)

(Truman is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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