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Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World

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Overview

Evan Thomas's startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust.

Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower set about to make good on his campaign promise to end the Korean War. Yet while Eisenhower was quickly viewed by many as a doddering lightweight, behind the bland smile and simple speech was a master tactician. To end the hostilities, Eisenhower would take a colossal risk by bluffing that he might use nuclear ...

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Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World

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Overview

Evan Thomas's startling account of how the underrated Dwight Eisenhower saved the world from nuclear holocaust.

Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower set about to make good on his campaign promise to end the Korean War. Yet while Eisenhower was quickly viewed by many as a doddering lightweight, behind the bland smile and simple speech was a master tactician. To end the hostilities, Eisenhower would take a colossal risk by bluffing that he might use nuclear weapons against the Communist Chinese, while at the same time restraining his generals and advisors who favored the strikes. Ike's gamble was of such magnitude that there could be but two outcomes: thousands of lives saved, or millions of lives lost.

A tense, vivid and revisionist account of a president who was then, and still is today, underestimated, IKE'S BLUFF is history at its most provocative and thrilling.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
At first Mr. Thomas hammers the bluff conceit so hard that he risks sounding forced and facile. But he winds up making a substantive case for the way that Eisenhower, the World War II Allied forces' supreme commander and one of the greatest shoo-ins in American electoral history, brought his military instincts from the battlefield to the White House…Eisenhower's combination of courage, petulance and cunning are hard qualities to reconcile. And Mr. Thomas sometimes has no answers. But he approaches the ever more changeable Eisenhower legacy with new and intriguing questions.
—Janet Maslin
The Washington Post
…a thoroughly researched, tightly organized and briskly written biography…Thomas is especially skilled at bringing characters of the era to life—such as CIA officer Richard Bissell and intelligence chief Walter Bedell Smith—who in too many other books are flat names on a page…Thomas's studied attempt to to understand Eisenhower's presidency as a poker game—whatever the shortcomings of the conceit—forced the author to thoroughly explore the depths of the president's personality, and it pays off. Just as Eisenhower's signature political skill was making the electorate feel that a trustworthy man was in charge, so too does Thomas persuade the reader of Ike's Bluff to trust his judgment of his subject.
—James Ledbetter
The Associated Press
"Well-researched and highly readable...Thomas' account is sure to appeal to older readers who can recall the mandatory duck-and-cover drills in the classroom and to others with an interest in a fascinating and pivotal period when the nation was in better hands than many at the time probably realized."
Richmond Times-Dispatch
"Thomas has written a book that elucidates Eisenhower's wisdom for general readers."
Ronald Steel
In his absorbing narrative of men who found duty or fulfillment or personal meaning in a war for empire-and of other men, like William James, who feared that such a quest would rot the nation's soul-Thomas has illuminated, in a compulsively readable style, a critical moment in American history. This is a book that, with its style and panache, is hard to forget and hard to put down.
New York Times Book Review
James McGrath Morris
Thomas has delivered an innovative, frequently entertaining and valuable retelling of an episode that set the pattern for more than a century of foreign military adventurism. This timely book is a cautionary tale about how the psyche of powerful and ambitious leaders may matter more than fact-or even truth-when the question of war arises.
The Washington Post
Steve Weinberg
Thomas takes some risks in his biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his cohorts, trying to get not just inside their actions, but inside their heads. The result is an intriguing examination of the pull that war has on men.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Walter Isaacson
Evan Thomas's profoundly important book shows how the card-playing general who did as much as anyone to win World War II became the president most adroit at preserving peace. Behind his open smile, Eisenhower was a secretive and subtle leader with quiet moral courage. By projecting confidence while keeping his intentions concealed, he became the model of a nuclear-age peacekeeper. Thomas has produced a fascinating history that is also a brilliant guide to great leadership.
author of Steve Jobs
Michael Beschloss
Dwight Eisenhower was a great general and President because he was a great leader, and Ike's Bluff uncracks the code. Evan Thomas's original and fascinating book is an immersion in the Eisenhower School of Leadership, with lessons not only for Presidents and military officers but leaders in other arenas of American life operating in moments of both tranquility and rapid change. Especially in these times, Thomas's book is an essential reminder that strong leadership can be exercised with kindness, morality and respect for opponents.
author of The Conquerors
Janet Maslin
A bustling, anecdotal book with a high-concept premise. [Thomas] approaches the ever more changeable Eisenhower legacy with new and intriguing questions.
The New York Times
James Ledbetter
A thoroughly researched, tightly organized and briskly written biography...Thomas is especially skilled at bringing characters of the era to life...
Washington Post
Tom Alderman
Highly absorbing.
Huffington Post
Vanity Fair
"[Thomas is] a five-star biographer who blows apart that image [of Ike as a bumbling old man] with devastating detail."
Dallas Morning News
"Incisive and direct...Evan Thomas brings considerable rhetorical power to his examination of the Eisenhower presidency."
Washington Times
"Works such as Ike's Bluff are encouraging historians and the media to take a closer and more objective look at Dwight D. Eisenhower."
Ronald Steel - New York Times Book Review
"In his absorbing narrative of men who found duty or fulfillment or personal meaning in a war for empire-and of other men, like William James, who feared that such a quest would rot the nation's soul-Thomas has illuminated, in a compulsively readable style, a critical moment in American history. This is a book that, with its style and panache, is hard to forget and hard to put down."
Eric Spanberg
When the stakes for America and the world were highest, Eisenhower played a winning hand. So, too, does his latest biographer.
Christian Science Monitor
Janet Maslin - The New York Times
"A bustling, anecdotal book with a high-concept premise. [Thomas] approaches the ever more changeable Eisenhower legacy with new and intriguing questions."
on Hardball - Chris Matthews
"[Thomas] is doing [for Eisenhower] what David McCullough did for John Adams."
From the Publisher
Praise for IKE'S BLUFF:

"With grace, insight, and originality, Evan Thomas has written a brilliant and engaging book about the most important of subjects: how close we came to Armageddon in the seemingly placid 1950s. Thomas's Eisenhower is a canny savior, a president who kept the peace through feint and bluff. No one writes more astutely or more honestly than Evan Thomas. This is the work of a master of storytelling at his best."—Jon Meacham, author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

"[Thomas's] detailed, engaging pictures of Eisenhower's personality bring him vividly to life. Most important, by the end of the book Thomas has made his case that Dwight Eisenhower's 'greatest victories were the wars he did not fight.' "—New York Times Book Review

"Evan Thomas has written an insightful and penetrating study of my father, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dad was a hard man to know; he played it close to the chest. So despite my extensive exposure to him throughout forty six years, I still found myself learning new aspects, some of which, I must admit, are a bit painful. But the balance that Thomas achieves between Eisenhower the public servant and Eisenhower the man is, in my opinion, as close to the mark as we are likely to see."—John Eisenhower

"Evan Thomas's profoundly important book shows how the card-playing general who did as much as anyone to win World War II became the president most adroit at preserving peace. Behind his open smile, Eisenhower was a secretive and subtle leader with quiet moral courage. By projecting confidence while keeping his intentions concealed, he became the model of a nuclear-age peacekeeper. Thomas has produced a fascinating history that is also a brilliant guide to great leadership."—Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs

"A bustling, anecdotal book with a high-concept premise. [Thomas] approaches the ever more changeable Eisenhower legacy with new and intriguing questions."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"Well-researched and highly readable...Thomas' account is sure to appeal to older readers who can recall the mandatory duck-and-cover drills in the classroom and to others with an interest in a fascinating and pivotal period when the nation was in better hands than many at the time probably realized."—The Associated Press

"[Thomas is] a five-star biographer who blows apart that image [of Ike as a bumbling old man] with devastating detail."—Vanity Fair

"A thoroughly researched, tightly organized and briskly written biography...Thomas is especially skilled at bringing characters of the era to life..."—James Ledbetter, Washington Post

"Dwight Eisenhower was a great general and President because he was a great leader, and Ike's Bluff uncracks the code. Evan Thomas's original and fascinating book is an immersion in the Eisenhower School of Leadership, with lessons not only for Presidents and military officers but leaders in other arenas of American life operating in moments of both tranquility and rapid change. Especially in these times, Thomas's book is an essential reminder that strong leadership can be exercised with kindness, morality and respect for opponents."—Michael Beschloss, author of The Conquerors

"Thomas has written a book that elucidates Eisenhower's wisdom for general readers."—Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Highly absorbing."—Tom Alderman, Huffington Post

"An imaginative, approachable volume that may well accelerate Eisenhower's slow but seemingly inexorable movement toward presidential greatness. Evan Thomas is right. The greatest victories of the man who helped win World War II were 'the wars he did not fight."—Boston Globe

"An enjoyable book, fast-moving and packed with anecdotes."—Los Angeles Times

"Engaging and insightful...Thomas' treatment is valuable...for the verve of its telling and convenience of bringing disparate and specialized sources together."—National Interest

"Incisive and direct...Evan Thomas brings considerable rhetorical power to his examination of the Eisenhower presidency."—Dallas Morning News

"Works such as Ike's Bluff are encouraging historians and the media to take a closer and more objective look at Dwight D. Eisenhower."—Washington Times

"[Thomas] is doing [for Eisenhower] what David McCullough did for John Adams."—Chris Matthews on Hardball

"When the stakes for America and the world were highest, Eisenhower played a winning hand. So, too, does his latest biographer."—Eric Spanberg, Christian Science Monitor

"Ike's Bluff is a testimony to the need for national leaders who place the nation above self...The book should be required reading for every member of Congress and the president as well."—Richard Fisher, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

"Historian and journalist Evan Thomas argues convincingly that keeping the United States out of war is a chief reason [Ike's reputation is on the rise]."—Timothy J. Lockhart, Virginian-Pilot

James Ledbetter - Washington Post
"A thoroughly researched, tightly organized and briskly written biography...Thomas is especially skilled at bringing characters of the era to life..."
Tom Alderman - Huffington Post
"Highly absorbing."
Eric Spanberg - Christian Science Monitor
"When the stakes for America and the world were highest, Eisenhower played a winning hand. So, too, does his latest biographer."
Timothy J. Lockhart - Virginian-Pilot
"Historian and journalist Evan Thomas argues convincingly that keeping the United States out of war is a chief reason [Ike's reputation is on the rise]."
James McGrath Morris - The Washington Post
"Thomas has delivered an innovative, frequently entertaining and valuable retelling of an episode that set the pattern for more than a century of foreign military adventurism. This timely book is a cautionary tale about how the psyche of powerful and ambitious leaders may matter more than fact-or even truth-when the question of war arises."
Steve Weinberg - Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Thomas takes some risks in his biography of Theodore Roosevelt and his cohorts, trying to get not just inside their actions, but inside their heads. The result is an intriguing examination of the pull that war has on men."
John Eisenhower
"Evan Thomas has written an insightful and penetrating study of my father, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dad was a hard man to know; he played it close to the chest. So despite my extensive exposure to him throughout forty six years, I still found myself learning new aspects, some of which, I must admit, are a bit painful. But the balance that Thomas achieves between Eisenhower the public servant and Eisenhower the man is, in my opinion, as close to the mark as we are likely to see."
Chris Matthews on Hardball
"[Thomas] is doing [for Eisenhower] what David McCullough did for John Adams."
Richard Fisher
"Ike's Bluff is a testimony to the need for national leaders who place the nation above self...The book should be required reading for every member of Congress and the president as well."
Jon Meacham - author of American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
Terrific Praise for The War Lovers:

No biographer at work today has a surer feel for the human dimension of history than Evan Thomas...The War Lovers is as good as popular history gets."

Jon Meacham - author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Praise for IKE'S BLUFF:

"With grace, insight, and originality, Evan Thomas has written a brilliant and engaging book about the most important of subjects: how close we came to Armageddon in the seemingly placid 1950s. Thomas's Eisenhower is a canny savior, a president who kept the peace through feint and bluff. No one writes more astutely or more honestly than Evan Thomas. This is the work of a master of storytelling at his best."

Walter Isaacson - author of Steve Jobs
"Evan Thomas's profoundly important book shows how the card-playing general who did as much as anyone to win World War II became the president most adroit at preserving peace. Behind his open smile, Eisenhower was a secretive and subtle leader with quiet moral courage. By projecting confidence while keeping his intentions concealed, he became the model of a nuclear-age peacekeeper. Thomas has produced a fascinating history that is also a brilliant guide to great leadership."
Michael Beschloss - author of The Conquerors
"Dwight Eisenhower was a great general and President because he was a great leader, and Ike's Bluff uncracks the code. Evan Thomas's original and fascinating book is an immersion in the Eisenhower School of Leadership, with lessons not only for Presidents and military officers but leaders in other arenas of American life operating in moments of both tranquility and rapid change. Especially in these times, Thomas's book is an essential reminder that strong leadership can be exercised with kindness, morality and respect for opponents."
Boston Globe
"An imaginative, approachable volume that may well accelerate Eisenhower's slow but seemingly inexorable movement toward presidential greatness. Evan Thomas is right. The greatest victories of the man who helped win World War II were 'the wars he did not fight."
Los Angeles Times
"An enjoyable book, fast-moving and packed with anecdotes."
National Interest
"Engaging and insightful...Thomas' treatment is valuable...for the verve of its telling and convenience of bringing disparate and specialized sources together."
Library Journal
President Eisenhower has enjoyed sustained attention in the past few years (e.g., in Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower in War and Peace, among others). Now Thomas (journalism, Princeton Univ.; The War Lovers) has produced yet another valuable examination of Eisenhower as a crafty politician who navigated the treacherous waters of the early Cold War period with guile and cleverness, using the same competitive skills he displayed in his bridge and poker games to keep the peace with America's intransigent foes. Thomas's narrative is filled with insights, and his sources—both primary and secondary—are impressive. He depicts Eisenhower as a leader who had seen up close the destruction of war and who was committed to keeping the world from descending into another world war. He was distrustful of what he famously termed the military-industrial complex and labored to keep that burgeoning relationship in check. His youthful successor learned the hard way what Eisenhower intuitively knew: that if the United States enters a conflict, it needs to make sure it can win, a hard truth Americans have had to learn more than once since Eisenhower left office. VERDICT An important and well-written book; a valuable addition to any U.S. history or political science collection. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12.]—Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
The New York Times Book Review
…Thomas doesn't neglect his subject's flaws, and his detailed, engaging picture of Eisenhower's personality brings him vividly to life. Most important, by the end of the book Thomas has made his case that Dwight Eisenhower's "greatest victories were the wars he did not fight."
—Daniel Larison
Kirkus Reviews
The beatification of President Dwight Eisenhower continues in this keen character study. Often viewed as trustworthy but bland, Eisenhower didn't let on what was really roiling behind the comforting exterior, as Thomas (Writing/Princeton Univ.; The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, 2010, etc.) effectively argues in this chronological look at his presidency. In fact, atomic war loomed: The hydrogen bomb was being routinely tested to the obliteration of Pacific atolls, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff were itching to provoke the Soviet Union and hot spots in Korea, China, Suez and Berlin were offering an opportunity. If anyone knew the devastation of war, Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower certainly did. While he avoided initial calls to jump into the presidential fray, he was convinced that only he could keep the country secure and at peace; he assumed the duty personally, and the physical burden ruined his health. Thomas emphasizes Ike's mastery at bridge, not because he had consistently good hands but because he could bluff. As he had learned through his World War II strategic command, he promoted an all-or-nothing approach to crises, standing cautious yet willing to throw everything in if required for victory. Tellingly, he moved the stockpiling of atomic weapons from the civilian Atomic Energy Commission to the military, and he did not concern himself with alleviating public hysteria over the threat of atomic warfare. Yet from crisis to crisis, he maintained a "healthy skepticism about the grandiose schemes of the military," leading him to close his presidency with his haunting warning about the "military industrial complex." Thomas ably demonstrates how operating through indirection became Ike's effective peacekeeping strategy. An astute, thoroughly engaging portrayal.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316091039
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 484
  • Sales rank: 128,257
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Evan Thomas is the author of several bestselling works of history and biography, including The War Lovers and Sea of Thunder. He was a writer and editor at Time and Newsweek for more than 30 years, and he is frequently a commentator on television and radio. He teaches at Princeton University and lives in Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

Ike's Bluff

President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World


By Evan Thomas

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2013 Evan Thomas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-09104-6


CHAPTER 1

Confidence


Eisenhower's inauguration as the thirty-fourth president of the United States on January 20, 1953, did not begin as warmly or triumphantly as his return home after VE-day in the spring of 1945. On a leaden, foggy winter's morning, sitting side by side in the presidential limousine on the drive from the White House up Pennsylvania Avenue, Eisenhower and President Truman rode in icy silence. Neither man liked the other and neither pretended otherwise. In his final days in office, the president, who had been blamed for "Truman's War," was bitter about Ike's vow to go to Korea. After the election, he offered Ike a plane to fly there, adding, "that is, if he still wants to go."

The sun broke through shortly before noon—"Eisenhower's luck," according to the pundits—in time for the swearing-in on two Bibles: one used by George Washington and the other used by Ike as a West Point cadet. Shortly after twelve thirty, as he stood on the speaking platform on the east facade of the Capitol, Eisenhower briefly flashed his grin and raised the V sign to the vast crowd, which cheered but otherwise remained mostly hushed throughout his inaugural speech. He looked "somber-faced," according to the New York Times. Eisenhower's twenty-minute address was lofty but abstract, framing the Cold War in Manichaean terms but offering no way out other than by persistence and vigilance. The address was not particularly memorable and is rarely quoted, but it did include a chilling line, intoned in Eisenhower's wintry, grating voice: "Science seems ready to confer on us, as its final gift, the power to erase human life on this planet."

Eisenhower chose not to share with the American public how much progress the scientists were making. Three months earlier, on November 1, 1952, at a Pacific atoll in the Marshall Islands, sailors had watched agog as a giant, multihued pillar of fire rose five miles into the sky, completely obliterating everything beneath it. The bomb's fireball, four miles wide, would have incinerated San Francisco in a flash. The H-bomb, five hundred times more powerful than the atomic bomb, had been born. ("It's a boy!" exclaimed the bomb's champion, Edward Teller.)

Eisenhower was on a postelection golfing vacation when he got his first formal briefing on the new weapon, code-named "Mike," from Roy Snapp, secretary of the Atomic Energy Commission. In the manager's office at the Augusta National Golf Club, Snapp handed Eisenhower a top-secret memorandum from the chairman of the AEC, Gordon Dean. Dean laconically wrote that the island base for the test was now "missing." The underwater crater was fifteen hundred yards in diameter.

As Supreme Allied Commander, Eisenhower had always been unusually open to new scientific research on weapons and intelligence gathering. To the briefer, the president-elect now said that, while he favored scientific research, he wondered at the reason "for us to build enough destructive power to destroy everything." He brooded for a moment, accepted what he could not change, and began to think how he would handle this terrible new reality.

The scale of the blast and the technological leap from fission bomb to the far more powerful thermonuclear bomb were, at Eisenhower's request, kept secret at first. Once president, he ordered the word "thermonuclear" be kept out of government press releases. ("Keep them confused as to fission and fusion," he instructed.) Despite his open demeanor, at press conferences Eisenhower would from time to time pretend to know less than he did, leaving the illusion that he was distracted and ill informed about matters that deeply engaged him.

Indeed, Eisenhower was willing to appear less than sharp, even a little slow- witted, if it served some larger purpose. Unlike most politicians, he was not driven by an insecure need to be loved and recognized. He possessed an inner confidence born of experience. This is not to say, however, that he was serene. Accustomed to the "august calmness" of his old boss, General George Marshall, national security aide Bobby Cutler recognized that he was in for a different experience when he went to work for Eisenhower. Ike would restlessly twirl his glasses, spin in his chair, doodle, jump up and pace, grab at the air with his huge hands, all while prodding and probing his aides in a sharp, flat, rapid- fire voice. When he was mad, which was often, a blood vessel in his temple would throb ominously. He hated wasting time and would terminate conversations, not because he was rude but because there was always something more to be done. "One could almost hear the whirring of a dynamo," recalled Cutler.

After commanding in a world war alongside the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, and Joseph Stalin, Ike was not intimidated by anyone. The presidency was at some level more of the same. After his first full day in office, he wrote in his diary: "My first day at the president's desk. Plenty of worries and difficult problems. But such has been my portion for a long time—the result is that this just seems (today) like a continuation of all I've been doing since July 1941—even before that."

Pressure and anxiety were familiar companions to the sixty-two-year-old Eisenhower. He had learned to make light of hard choices, while subtly reminding others that he knew about stress in ways they could only imagine. In 1955, Eisenhower was invited to give the commencement address at Penn State, where his brother Milton was president. As the big day arrived, rain threatened. Did Ike want to move the ceremony indoors or take his chances in the bigger outdoor stadium? Eisenhower shrugged and said, "You decide. I haven't worried about the weather since June 6, 1944." This was not true; an avid golfer, he worried about the weather all the time. But it was useful to make others think that he was imperturbable.

And yet he knew that he was entering a new and uncertain world. Before he left the Oval Office on that first day, he received a brief phone call from General Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Turning to his secretary, Ann Whitman, Eisenhower said that he had just learned a lesson. His old friend Brad, who had entered West Point with him in 1911 and had been his comrade in arms throughout the Second World War, had addressed him not as "Ike" but as "Mr. President." From that moment, Eisenhower later wrote, he knew he would be "separated from all others, including my oldest and best friends. I would be far more alone now than when commanding the Allied forces in Europe in World War II."


Vice President Richard Nixon had reason to resent President Eisenhower. Although Ike was friendly to his running mate on the 1952 Republican ticket, Nixon couldn't help but feel like a junior officer in the presence of the commanding general. Ike's geniality masked a reserve, a coolness, which Nixon felt keenly. Nixon's insecurities had turned to anger when Ike kept his distance from Nixon during a campaign-fund flap just six weeks before election day. The California senator had been able to save his place on the GOP ticket only by appealing to the public with his maudlin but effective "Checkers speech." Nixon understood and admired two important truths about Eisenhower. "He was a far more complex and devious man than most people realized," wrote Nixon in his 1962 memoir, Six Crises. (Nixon added, "in the best sense of those words.") And Nixon could see that Eisenhower identified himself with the nation. There was no point arguing "what's best for Eisenhower" versus "what is best for the nation," Nixon told friends and colleagues. In Eisenhower's mind, they were one and the same.

Eisenhower had been taught at West Point to give credit to others and to avoid casting blame by name. Indoctrinated in the virtues of the team, he tried to convince himself that he was essentially replaceable. He went so far as to carry around a corny anonymous poem:

    ... Take a bucket, fill it with water,
    Put your hand in—clear up to the wrist.
    Now pull it out; the hole that remains
    Is a measure of how you'll be missed ...

    The moral of this quaint example;
    To do just the best that you can,
    Be proud of yourself, but remember,
    There is no Indispensable Man!


The evidence is overwhelming that he believed quite the opposite. Dwight Eisenhower recognized in himself the one man who could lead the United States in an era, when—for the first time in history—not one but two nations, mortal enemies, had the power to plunge the world into darkness. The image of Ike as a Cincinnatus, the citizen-soldier reluctantly but dutifully brought back from his retirement to lead his nation, glosses over Eisenhower's own fierce ambition. Eisenhower played hard to get in 1951 and into 1952, but he could easily have said no and retired with his honor intact. He wanted to be in charge because he believed he was the man for the age.

Eisenhower was not above politics; he had been a superb military politician and learned several valuable lessons from the experience. He was critical of the Democrats, who, he feared, were determined to spend the country into bankruptcy and risked that a totalitarian state might rise out of the ensuing chaos. Fascism was a very recent memory for the man who had, at a very high cost, defeated it. But he was even more disparaging of his own party, certainly its dominant wing, which was at once isolationist and obsessed with Communist plots.

Eisenhower disliked strutters and desk pounders, especially after working for General MacArthur in the 1930s. He preferred to operate by indirection and behind the scenes.

But he wanted to be in control. His first battle in life was to tame his temper. As a boy, denied permission by his parents to go on a Boy Scout event, he beat his hands against a tree until they bled. Fond of quoting scripture, his mother, Ida, had taken him aside and said, "He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city." Shortly after Pearl Harbor, General Marshall informed Eisenhower that he was too valuable as a staff officer in Washington to be sent overseas to fight. Brimming with self-pity, Ike burst out bitterly that he would do his duty—"if that locks me to a desk for the rest of the war, so be it!" The next day Ike was full of regret. He wrote in his diary, "Anger cannot win. It cannot even think clearly."

Ike credited the warm, pacifist Ida for teaching him self-control. "I thought to myself what a poor job she had done," recalled an aide, Bernard Shanley. Ike's subordinates were awed by his capacity for rage. "It was like looking into a Bessemer furnace," recalled one of them, Bryce Harlow. Ike's personal doctor, Howard Snyder, noted that during World War II a journalist had dubbed Ike "the terrible tempered Mr. Bang," and Snyder himself observed "the twisted cord-like temple arteries standing out of the side of his head" when Ike became angry. If Ike felt an outburst coming on, he sometimes simply got up and—even more frightening to his staff—walked out of the room. When he was president, Ike and Mamie would occasionally retreat to the small White House movie theater, though most feature films bored Eisenhower or were too mushy for his tastes. ("Can't you find a new western?" he would demand of the White House staff.) An exception was a 1951 film entitled Angels in the Outfield, about an irascible baseball manager named Guffy McGovern, who is about to lose his job because his team is so awful. An angel appears from heaven to offer the manager a deal: God will let the team win if McGovern learns to control his temper. Through various twists and turns, redemption is achieved. Sergeant John Moaney, Ike's manservant, claimed to have run the movie thirty-eight times, according to Ike's grandson, David. As the lights came on, Ike would say "Wonderful show" almost inaudibly, and head for bed, resolved to keep his temper with difficult politicians in the morning.

Eisenhower never entirely tamed his emotions. But he did not bully, and his outbursts would pass. On occasion, he used anger to advantage. As a five-star general, he took for granted the retinue of horse-holders in constant attendance, but at the same time he could be sweet with his staff, bestowing small kindnesses. In return, they were loyal; Eisenhower's White House staff turnover was very low. He was blessed with a natural likability. "He merely has to smile at you, and you trust him at once," conceded Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, who was, by nature, suspicious and churlish. "No one hated him. His enemies didn't even hate him," recalled Karl Harr, a national security staffer.

Ike learned to keep up a genial manner, to seem interested, and, when necessary, to hide his true feelings and intentions. His motives were in no way malevolent. To the contrary, he was commanding himself to rise above pettiness, pride, and jealousy, human weakness he knew and understood. Eisenhower was confident in a way that transcended arrogance. He did not need to show off. He knew that he had a gift: the power to make people—indeed, whole peoples—trust him.

Certainly, his allies in World War II sorely tried his patience. The British chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, initially thought he had "only the vaguest conception of war." (Early in the war, British officers often referred to the Yanks as "our Italians.") In his dealings with the haughty Montgomery, Ike managed to be warm, open, and inclusive, even as "Monty" tested the limits of his short-fuse temper. "God damn it, I can deal with anybody except that son of a bitch!" Eisenhower once exploded. But for the most part, Ike knew he could afford to be patient with the likes of Montgomery. Ike confided to speechwriter Arthur Larson that he had tremendous arguments with Prime Minister Churchill, who was demanding and impulsive. "But it didn't really matter," Ike added quietly, "because I was the boss."

Eisenhower was sometimes even accused of being too agreeable. General George Patton railed that Ike was "damned near a Benedict Arnold" and groused that, as a result of Eisenhower's amiability, the British "are playing us for suckers." But Ike's friendliness was often underwritten not by a sense of emotion but alliance. Indeed, Eisenhower put up with the bloodthirsty, anti-Semitic Patton, resurrecting Patton's career after he struck an enlisted man and relieving him of his command only after he announced at the end of the war that the Americans should join up with the Germans and invade Russia. Ike was fond of Patton and knew he needed him as a war fighter, especially as a tank commander pursuing a defeated enemy—but then, when the war was done, he needed him no longer.

In one of his memoirs, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, Ike portrayed himself as a somewhat lazy student who liked to relax by reading westerns and listening to his favorite dance band, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. Elsewhere he described himself as a "simple country boy," and mournfully responded to a reporter's question, "That's just too complicated for a dumb bunny like me." Eisenhower was, in fact, a well-read humanist. As a boy, he had become so entranced by volumes of Greek and Roman history that his mother, irked that he was neglecting his chores, locked the books in a closet. Eisenhower found the key and read while she was off doing errands (another of his heros, or in this case an antihero, was Hannibal, a magnificent loser). Ike's high school yearbook predicted that he'd end up as a history professor at Yale. His de facto graduate school was the three years he spent in the early 1920s under the command of General Fox Conner, a genius soldier-scholar, in a remote outpost in the Panama Canal Zone. (It was Conner who taught Ike, "Always take your job seriously, never yourself.") With Conner, Eisenhower read Plato, Tacitus, and Nietzsche, among other philosophers and thinkers.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Ike's Bluff by Evan Thomas. Copyright © 2013 Evan Thomas. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Tell No One 3

Part 1 Duty: 1953-1956

1 Confidence 21

2 The Card Player 31

3 Positive Loyalty 49

4 Cross of Iron 58

5 Gentleman's Agreement 69

6 Deception 87

7 Learning to Love the Bomb 98

8 The Chamber Pot 115

9 Strange Genius 137

10 "Don't Worry, I'll Confuse them" 152

11 Meeting Mr. Khrushchev 166

12 The Devil's Grip 181

13 Bows and Arrows 198

14 Rising Storm 210

15 Subtle and Brutal 226

Part 2 Honor: 1957-1961

16 Dark Star 243

17 The Great Equation 261

18 The Strong Say Nothing 279

19 Guns of August 295

20 Missile Gap 308

21 Looking for a Partner 317

22 Sweet Words 335

23 A Regular Pixie 353

24 "The Pilot's Alive" 365

25 "I'm Just Fed up!" 380

26 The Underestimated Man 394

Epilogue Peace 405

Acknowledgments 419

Source Notes 423

Bibliography 455

Index 469

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 15 )
Rating Distribution

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(4)

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(7)

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2013

    I agree with reviews that stated that it was well researched and

    I agree with reviews that stated that it was well researched and highly readable. I don't read a lot of nonfiction, and I only read this because my book group chose it for March, but I was very glad I did read it. I was born the year that Eisenhower became president so I know nothing about his presidency or even much about his military career. This book helped to fill the gap. As I write this, the North Koreans are threatening South Korea and the world with missiles, an eerily familiar scenario, a similar incident having occurred early in Ike's presidency. History does teach us a lot about the present, and it is worthwhile to study it all. The focus of this book was very tightly on foreign policy so we don't learn much about Ike's domestic policies. Overall, it was a good read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to get a different view of Eisenhower-he was not the wishy washy milquetoast history would have us remember him as.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Dreadful book.

    One star for the effort it took to publish. This is an amalgam of research items strung together with uninteresting and repetitive narrative. Could have used the services of a stricter editor, but that probably wouldn't have saved it either. Everything is footnoted to death; the sources are very seldom primary, but regurgitatings of someone else's published work. I'm trying to keep slogging through in the hopes that I'll learn something, but the spirit flags.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    A wonderful book for everyone who grew up in the Eisenhower years

    I really enjoyed this book as a quick read about a very important time in world history and the part Eisenhower, as a career military officer played in keeping the world from being destroyed by nuclear weapons.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Recommended read

    Eisenhower was a master of misdirection, and a very underrated president. This book adds useful insight to Ike while he was president and his efforts to deal with new destructive weapons and outlines his efforts toward world peace.

    A worthwhile read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 13, 2013

    The Greatest President of My Lifetime Explained

    Ike led Allied Forces to victory in WWII. Then he prevented nuclear holocaust in the years when we had nuclear weapons and didn't know how to use them. He saved the world and did a lot of other good things as well. Popular revisionist history from right to left has maligned him. This is the kind of GOP President that should fill our hearts with pride; not the clowns that followed.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Actually I bought this book as a gift for my son-in-law. Have n

    Actually I bought this book as a gift for my son-in-law. Have not heard from him so I believe he is enjoying this as well as all the other books about Gen. Eisenhower. He is a very loyal fan of the General.

    1 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

    Problem with sample

    I am wary of buying the full book because the sample was messed up. Whole portions were repeated. What I did read was good.

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2014

    Ravenclaw

    Pads over and takes a squirrel. Then asks who is the med. Cat and which result is the med.cat den.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2014

    Freshkill Pile

    DawnClan's freshkill pile. ~•Skystar

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    anything new here? no

    anything new here? no

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2013

    Best

    Boss

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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