(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Harry S. Truman has become an American political legend. He is remembered for such plainspoken aphorisms as “The buck stops here” and “If you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen,” and as the sharp-tongued battler who defied the pollsters and won a stunning victory in the presidential election of 1948. But Truman was much more than a colorful political character. President during the emergence of the Cold War, Truman and his advisers developed the policy of containment to meet the challenge of the Soviet Union. This would be the basis of American foreign policy until the collapse of communism forty years later. Truman also ordered the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan, revived postwar Europe with the Marshall Plan, authorized the creation of NATO, sponsored the birth of Israel, waged the Korean War, and at home fought for the civil rights of black Americans. Few presidents have left so enduring a legacy.

David McCullough’s TRUMAN, for all its bulk, is not a definitive history of Truman’s presidency. Instead it is a warm tribute to a man McCullough clearly admires. McCullough eschews analysis in favor of storytelling. He tells the tale of an ordinary but virtuous and able man who, through hard work and good luck, rose to the highest office in the land. McCullough brilliantly recounts the most dramatic episodes in Truman’s life, devoting the better part of one hundred pages to the 1948 election alone. What his narrative does not do,...

(The entire section is 402 words.)