Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the Worldby Evan Thomas
Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower came to be seen by many as a doddering lightweight. Yet behind the bland smile and apparent simplemindedness was a brilliant, intellectual tactician. As Evan Thomas reveals in his provocative examination of Ike's White House years, Eisenhower was a master of calculated duplicity. As with his bridge and poker… See more details below
Upon assuming the presidency in 1953, Dwight Eisenhower came to be seen by many as a doddering lightweight. Yet behind the bland smile and apparent simplemindedness was a brilliant, intellectual tactician. As Evan Thomas reveals in his provocative examination of Ike's White House years, Eisenhower was a master of calculated duplicity. As with his bridge and poker games he was eventually forced to stop playing after leaving too many fellow army officers insolvent, Ike could be patient and ruthless in the con, and generous and expedient in his partnerships. Facing the Soviet Union, China, and his own generals, some of whom believed a first strike was the only means of survival, Eisenhower would make his boldest and riskiest bet yet, one of such enormity that there could be but two outcomes: the survival of the world, or its end.
This is the story of how he won.
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'Good night t'ee,' said the man with the basket.
'Good night, Sir John,' said the parson.
The pedestrian, after another pace or two, halted, and turned round.
'Now, sir, begging your pardon; we met last market-day on this road about this time, and I zaid 'oGood night', and you made reply 'Good night, Sir John', as now.'
'I did,' said the parson.
'And once before that--near a month ago.'
'I may have.'
'Then what might your meaning be in calling me 'Sir John' these different times, when I be plain Jack Durbeyfield, the haggler?'
The parson rode a step or two nearer.
'It was only my whim,' he said; and, after a moment's hesitation: 'It was on account of a discovery I made some little time ago, whilst I was hunting up pedigrees for the new county history. I am Parson Tringham, the antiquary, of Stagfoot Lane. Don't you really know, Durbeyfield, that you are the lineal representative of the ancient and knightly family ofthe d'Urbervilles, who derive their descent from Sir Pagan d'Urberville, that renowned knight who came from Normandy with William the Conqueror, as appears by Battle Abbey Roll?'
'Never heard it before, sir?'
'Well it's true. Throw up your chin a moment, so that I may catch the profile of your face better. Yes, that's the d'Urberville nose and chin--a little debased. Your ancestor was one of the twelve knights who assisted the Lord of Estremavilla in Normandy in his conquest of Glamorganshire. Branches of your family held manors over all this part of England; their names appear in the Pipe Rolls in the time of King Stephen. In the reign of King John one of them was rich enough to give a manor to the Knights Hospitallers; and in Edward the Second's time your forefather Brian was summoned to Westminster to attend the great Council there. You declined a little in Oliver Cromwell's time, but to no serious extent, and in Charles the Second's reign you were made Knights of the Royal Oak for your loyalty. Aye, there have been generations of Sir Johns among you, and if knighthood were hereditary, like a baronetcy, as it practically was in old times, when men were knighted from father to son, you would be Sir John now.'
'Ye don't say so!'
'In short,' concluded the parson, decisively smacking his leg with his switch, 'there's hardly such another family in England.'
'Daze my eyes, and isn't there?' said Durbeyfield. 'And here have I been knocking about, year after year, from pillar to post, as if I was no more than the commonest feller in the parish . . . And how long hev this news about me been knowed, Pa'son Tringham?'
The clergyman explained that, as far as he was aware, it had quite died out of knowledge, and could hardly be said to be known at all. His own investigations had begun on a day in the preceding spring when, having been engaged in tracing the vicissitudes of the d'Urberville family, he had observed Durbeyfield's name on his waggon, and had thereupon been led to make inquiries about his father and grandfather till he had no doubt on the subject.
'At first I resolved not to disturb you with such a useless piece of information,' said he. 'However, our impulses are too strong for our judgment sometimes. I thought you might perhaps know something of it all the while.'
'Well, I have heard once or twice, 'tis true, that my family had seen better days afore they came to Blackmoor. But I took no notice o't, thinking it to mean that we had once kept two horses where we now keep only one. I've got a wold silver spoon, and a wold graven seal at home, too; but, Lord, what's a spoon and seal? . . . And to think that I and these noble d'Urbervilles were one flesh all the time. 'Twas said that my gr't-grandfer had secrets, and didn't care to talk of where he came from . . . And where do we raise our smoke, now, parson, if I may make so bold; I mean, where do we d'Urbervilles live?'
'You don't live anywhere. You are extinct--as a county family.'
'Yes--what the mendacious family chronicles call extinct in the male line--that is, gone down--gone under.'
'Then where do we lie?'
'At Kingsbere-sub-Greenhill: rows and rows of you in your vaults, with your effigies under Purbeck-marble canopies.'
'And where be our family mansions and estates?'
'You haven't any.'
'Oh? No lands neither?'
'None; though you once had 'em in abundance, as I said, for your family consisted of numerous branches. In this county there was a seat of yours at Kingsbere, and another at Sherton, and another at Millpond, and another at Lullstead, and another at Wellbridge.'
'And shall we ever come into our own again?'
'Ah--that I can't tell!'
'And what had I better do about it, sir?' asked Durbeyfield, after a pause.
'Oh--nothing, nothing; except chasten yourself with the thought of 'how are the mighty fallen'. It is a fact of some interest to the local historian and genealogist, nothing more. There are several families among the cottagers of this county of almost equal lustre. Good night.'
'But you'll turn back and have a quart of beer wi' me on the strength o't, Pa&rs'n Tringham? There's a very pretty brew in tap at The Pure Drop--though, to be sure, not so good as at Rolliver'.'
'No, thank you--not this evening, Durbeyfield. You've had enough already.' Concluding thus the parson rode on his way, with doubts as to his discretion in retailing this curious bit of lore.
When he was gone Durbeyfield walked a few steps in a profound reverie, and then sat down upon the grassy bank by the roadside, depositing his basket before him. In a few minutes a youth appeared in the distance, walking in the same direction as that which had been pursued by Durbeyfield. The latter, on seeing him, held up his hand, and the lad quickened his pace and came near.
'Boy, take up that basket! I want 'oee to go on an errand for me.'
The lath-like stripling frowned. 'Who be you, then, John Durbeyfield, to order me about and call me 'boy'? You know my name as well as I know yours!'
'Do you, do you? That's the secret--that's the secret! Now obey my orders, and take the message I'm going to charge 'ee wi' . . . Well, Fred, I don't mind telling you that the secret is that I'm one of a noble race--it has been just found out by me this present afternoon, P.M.' And as he made the announcement, Durbeyfield, declining from his sitting position, luxuriously stretched himself out upon the bank among the daisies.
The lad stood before Durbeyfield, and contemplated his length from crown to toe.
"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."
New York Times Book Review
“The greatest tragic writer among English novelists.”—Virginia Woolf
Minneapolis Star Tribune
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."
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President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World
By Evan Thomas
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2013 Evan Thomas
All rights reserved.
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.
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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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.
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.
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!
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.
REVIEW OF IKE’S BLUFF Before Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 35th President of the United States he was already experienced in high-level politics. He knew warfare, its strategies and especially its back stage politics. With this background he naturally used stratagems–deception, misdirection, tactical persuasion, advantageous positioning, and other tactics–to promote the interests of his country as president. He also used the cover pose of a slightly out of it, doddering grandfather figure. It was effective, the public liked the amiability, the press was distracted, and the underestimation and confusion of potential opponents allowed freer maneuvering behind the scenes. Now, 54 years after leaving office, these things have been written about and studied. Author Evan Thomas has done a fine job in this pursuit. Thomas has taken a look behind the scenes and has created a portrait based on official records, memoirs, and private conversations ferreted out. According to Thomas and other authors, Ike was intent on keeping this country out of war. Certainly he rejected untenable situations. Once he was able to end hostilities in Korea, no further war took place during his term of office. It is said that no American soldier lost his life in battle during this time. He rejected engagements in Dien Bien Phu and the Middle East. Still, Ike was no pacifist. While he kept a lid on the armament passions of some in the military, he still retained forces sufficient to defend the country. Ike’s Bluff contains a bias; it is written from a left of center point of view. No one that did not share this view back in the 1950s is characterized in a positive way in this book; no nuances are permitted unless the opponent is a agreeing with what Thomas would view as a left opinion. International relations are seen through this political prism. For instance, the crushing of the Hungarian rebellion in 1956 is seen by Thomas as a somewhat minor political problem for Ike and Nikita Krushchev alike. Thomas does mention the 20,000 Hungarians killed by the Russian army in the attempted revolt, but the reference to those killed as freedom fighters is put into quotes, characterized as someone else’s opinion. Apparently the principle of consent of the governed did not apply to the Hungarians, nor to the Ukrainians, the Poles, the East Germans, or even to the Russians themselves. Political views aside, there is an abundance of inside information provided by Even Thomas here.
Pads over and takes a squirrel. Then asks who is the med. Cat and which result is the med.cat den.
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.
anything new here? no
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.
I am wary of buying the full book because the sample was messed up. Whole portions were repeated. What I did read was good.