George Marshall: A Biography

George Marshall: A Biography

2.2 7
by Debi Unger, Irwin Unger, Stanley Hirshson

View All Available Formats & Editions

A major historical biography of George C. Marshall—the general who ran the U.S. campaign during the Second World War, the Secretary of State who oversaw the successful rebuilding of post-war Europe, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize—and the first to offer a complete picture of his life.

While Eisenhower Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, MacArthur,

…  See more details below


A major historical biography of George C. Marshall—the general who ran the U.S. campaign during the Second World War, the Secretary of State who oversaw the successful rebuilding of post-war Europe, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize—and the first to offer a complete picture of his life.

While Eisenhower Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, MacArthur, Nimitz, and Leahy waged battles in Europe and the Pacific, one military leader actually ran World War II for America, overseeing personnel and logistics: Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945, George C. Marshall.

This interpretive biography of George C. Marshall follows his life from his childhood in Western Pennsylvania and his military training at the Virginia Military Institute to his role during and after World War II and his death in 1959 at the age of seventy-eight. It brings to light the virtuous historical role models who inspired him, including George Washington and Robert E. Lee, and his relationships with the Washington political establishment, military brass, and foreign leaders, from Harry Truman to Chiang Kai-shek. It explores Marshall’s successes and failures during World War II, and his contributions through two critical years of the emerging Cold War—including the transformative Marshall Plan, which saved Western Europe from Soviet domination, and the failed attempt to unite China’s nationalists and communists.

Based on breathtaking research and filled with rich detail, George Marshall is sure to be hailed as the definitive work on one of the most influential figures in American history.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mark Atwood Lawrence
…[an] elegant and iconoclastic biography, which pokes innumerable holes in Marshall's reputation for leadership and raises intriguing questions about how such reputations get made. Marshall emerges not as the incarnation of greatness but as an ordinary, indecisive, "less than awe-inspiring" man who achieved an unexceptional mix of success and failure…Mostly, the Ungers' vision of Marshall is persuasive. Praise for the general has soared so high over the years that the reality is bound to lie closer to the ground. The book also offers a useful reminder that glorification of the World War II era may tell us more about the disappointments of our own times than about an increasingly remote past when—no surprise—American leaders stumbled and were sometimes saved from their errors by the scale of the American war machine and the endurance of their allies.
Publishers Weekly
The Ungers (LBJ: A Life) complete a project, conceived by the late Hirshson (General Patton), for a full-scale biography of this great soldier-statesman that is both comprehensively researched and highly readable, but fundamentally misunderstands its subject. WWI gave Marshall practice in managing a large army and dealing with “difficult allies.” In 1939, a combination of talent and influence brought him to the post of chief of staff, placing him at the center of a greater war where his success brought promotion to General of the Army. Marshall’s capacities as a manager fitted perfectly the requirements of a global war waged by a grand alliance of temporary convenience. His fundamental skills involved balancing military, political, and economic tensions at the highest levels in a context of strong personalities. Marshall was less adept at the level of operations, like the timing of D-Day, but it was his ability as a manager that defined his postwar career: a secretary of state whose defining and brokering of the economic reconstruction plan that bears his name was recognized by a Nobel Peace Prize. The authors nevertheless present Marshall as a man whose “austere persona” inspired respect and confidence, and conclude his performance as soldier and statesman was “less than awe-inspiring,” reflecting “sterling character but unremarkable powers.” The authors’ conclusion that Marshall’s reputation was the construction of America’s longing for a military leader above politics and ambition defies the weight of evidence and scholarship, the reasoned judgment of Marshall’s contemporaries, and his role as a decisive and positive factor in 20 crucial years of national policy. Agent: Alex Hoyt, Alexander Hoyt Assoc. (Nov.)
Library Journal
This biography provides an excellent overview of one of the 20th century's most influential soldiers and statesmen. Although born in rural Pennsylvania, George Marshall (1880–1959) was a quintessential Virginia gentleman for whom duty and loyalty were of the utmost importance. The book insightfully addresses his interactions not only with other major players on the world stage but also his development as a junior officer during World War I and the army's years of slow promotion. The most recent single-volume biography of Marshall since Ed Cray's General of the Army (1990), this work includes a fair evaluation of its subject's strengths and mistakes as army chief of staff during World War II, originator of the Marshall Plan following World War II, and his time as secretary of state and secretary of defense during the early years of the Cold War. The Ungers (coauthors, The Guggenheims) appraise differing views of historians to provide analysis of such controversial events as the attack on Pearl Harbor, troop replacement policy, and the atomic bomb. Their research draws richly on a depth and breadth of primary and secondary sources, including Forrest C. Pogue's authorized four-volume biography. VERDICT Strongly recommended for those interested in military and war history. [See Prepub Alert, 4/7/14.]—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of George Marshall (1880-1959) focusing on the general's overall decency rather than his strategic brilliance. Having inherited this project after the death of historian Hirshson, the Ungers (The Guggenheims, 2005, etc.) make a valiant attempt to cover Marshall's accomplished military career and his years as President Franklin Roosevelt's chief of staff and President Harry Truman's secretary of state. A graduate of Virginia Military Institute and a protégé of Gen. John Pershing, with early postings in the Philippines and China, Marshall, laconic and humorless, could never garner the kind of position as commander of troops that would have ensured a glorious career. He was most effective at training officers in the late 1920s, organizing Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp in preparation for his move to Washington to take up a position with the War Plans Division and eventually become chief of staff. This indeed is what the authors believe he should best be remembered for: "creating the American World War II army virtually out of nothing." As Roosevelt's wartime right arm, Marshall pushed for the "Europe First" agenda and was deemed too valuable at home to spare as supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, yet Marshall's "complacency" about Japan's threats on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack lent his right-wing critics fodder for the rest of his life. The Ungers find him naïve in dealing with the Chinese when sent to negotiate a truce between the Nationalists and the Communists in late 1945; they do not credit him with coming up with the so-called Marshall Plan to help Europe get back on its feet, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1953. However, Marshall always remained a devoted and dutiful officer. A yeoman's effort in service of an admirable subject in need of more good studies about him.
Walter R. Borneman
“By any standard, George C. Marshall looms large over the twentieth century. Debi and Irwin Unger’s in-depth biography will raise an eyebrow or two over the man we thought we knew and provide an intriguing look at Marshall’s guarded personality, his complicated relationships, and his turbulent times.”
Evan Thomas
“Integrity, honor, humility-how quaint, and how sorely missed, these virtues seem today. They were embodied in George Marshall, the great World War II army chief of staff and Cold War secretary of state. Marshall’s leadership style drives this grand but judicious biography of a fascinating man.”
New York Times Book Review
“Elegant and iconoclastic… refreshing… persuasive.”
“An excellent reexamination of Marshall’s career that is ideal for general readers.”

Read More

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.60(d)

Meet the Author

Stanley P. Hirshson is professor of history at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The author of biographies of Brigham Young and General William T. Sherman, he worked on General Patton for eleven years.

Together Irwin and Debi Unger have authored LBJ: A Life and several other books. They live in New York City.

Irwin Unger has won the Pulitzer Prize in history for The Greenback Era as well as two Guggenheim fellowships. Together Irwin and Debi Unger have authored LBJ: A Life and several other books. They live in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >

George Marshall: A Biography 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Contrary to the Barnes and Noble description, this book is NOT "the definitive work" on General George Marshall. The authors’ thesis seems to be that Marshall was an over rated figure in WWII and history. Throughout their biography, the Ungers seem hell bent on making that point at every turn. However, their rigor is poor, and their rationale is often weak and based more on opinion than fact. Worst of all, for historians, they seem to have an alarming under appreciation for the enormity of the task faced by Marshall in 1939-1945, as he led the Army to transform itself from a small, inexperienced, and ill equipped fighting force to an 8 million man, global Army that defeated the Nazis and the Japanese. Readers interested in Marshall would be much better off reading Pogue, Cray, or Stoler's biographies.
texas2012 More than 1 year ago
Book jacket "hailed as the definitive work on" This book is very superficial with lots of innuendo. Superficial covering of Marshalls experiences {page 25} and WW I {page 41} are so scanty that they cannot be a part of a definitive work. Not stating that the words in the book did not say anything about his life. Page 46 Marshall was 40 yrs. old after WW I.   Page 161 Marshall is disparaged  "in fact the selection process did not work as well" for his WW II selection of leaders, without considering the limited people he had to select from. Page 166 Marshall is being disparaged for not meeting 2014 standards of racial equality This book is written by a present day anti/war personage.  I stopped reading at page 166. I am not entirely up on all the facts of Marshall, but I do know a con job when I read one...
In-Quest More than 1 year ago
This is the third book I have read on Marshall and I was disappointed with how poorly they rank his service to America. Sure he was not perfect but I don't think they could name anyone in American history who showed better how one can serve his country. When you see the quotes of people like FDR, Winston Churchill, Eisenhower, Trueman and others who are telling you that this guy is great the authors must think they did not know what they were talking about. Who are you going to believe, the authors or the people who worked with him and knew him?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disappointing in that the authors did not really tell us anything new. Their criticisms reflect modern values rather than the times the General lived. There are better works about his life than this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Too slow. Typos!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago