Michael Korda, Ike: An American Hero (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 779 pp., $34.95.
DWIGHT D. Eisenhower was surely one of the most underrated presidents in American history. Posing as the amiable duffer and famed for his garbled sentences, Eisenhower was widely ridiculed by liberal elites at the time-and this perception has endured (perhaps, in part, because Eisenhower let an alcoholic Senator Joe McCarthy self-destruct rather than openly confronting him). Yet, particularly when measured against more contemporary presidents, Eisenhower was a quite successful chief executive. After all, during his tenure in the Oval Office, there was no war between the great powers, no economic recession, no real confrontation with the Soviets (apart from the U-2 glitch), no riots at home. What's not to like?
So a second look at Dwight D. Eisenhower and his presidency seems overdue. While Michael Korda has produced a sound, thoughtful and highly readable account, Ike does not quite fit the bill.
For one thing, it is quite odd to read a biography of a modern American chief executive in which the presidency itself occupies less than 10 percent of this voluminous book. But then Eisenhower was a victorious general, for whom the rules are often different. Biographies of George Washington and Ulysses Grant (less so with Andrew Jackson) tend to favor the pre-presidential period. And why not? There is, after all, a certain logic to this, since that is usually the time when presidential credentials are forged. The imbalance in this case, however, is remarkable. Korda offers 50 well-described pages on his boyhood and West Point, 120 pages that take Eisenhower from his days as a young second lieutenant to the outbreak of World War II-which itself gets 360 pages in the chronological narrative-plus another 50 pages at the start of the book on the strategy of the war and the D day decision.