Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman

Article excerpt

MAN OF THE PEOPLE: A Life of Harry S.Trumanby Alonzo L. Hamby. 760 pages. Oxford University Press, Inc.. New York. 1995. $35.00.

Following the publication of David McCullough's award-winning Truman, one may ask. "Why do we need another biography of the 33d president?" Alonzo L. Hamby provides the answer in Man of the People, in which he analyzes Harry S. Truman in light of the world in which he lived. The result is a highly favorable biography, set against the background of the Great Depression, World War II, the Democratic Party's changing nature and the emerging Cold War.

Hamby presents his subject not only as a historical figure in whose career one finds an interesting individual but also portrays the evolution of American social and political democracy in the 20th century's first half. He succeeds admirably in relating the Truman White House to the larger Cold War themes and the redefinition of liberalism in the post-Franklin Roosevelt years.

It is in Truman's world that the author makes his greatest contribution. Hamby's pre-presidential vears' account, particularly his subject's early political career, is the best to date-as is his analysis of Truman's political acumen in garnering bipartisan support for the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. To concentrate on bailing out Western Europe, Truman deemphasized the East Asian mainland. To spend on economic recovery, he used the defense establishment as the principal bill payer. As Hamby notes both decisions later boomeranged on the administration.

To his credit, Hamby provides the reader with a balanced assessment of Truman's life. He takes Truman to task for the latter's muddled sense of the Democratic Party in the postwar world. …