August 10, 2003

Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life

In this extraordinarily well-written and even-handed biography. D'Este superbly handles a difficult problem: his subject is often the least interesting person on stage. Eisenhower was smart, capable, persistent, and successful. Where many others could not have held the fragile alliance together, Eisenhower charmed, cajoled, and kept incompatible generals in harness. Where others would have thrust themselves into the foreground with disastrous consequences, Eisenhower staid away from the spotlight yet kept control of the war. In a world populated by orators, polished (Churchill, Roosevelt), insidious (DeGaulle, Montgomery) and wild (Patton), Eisenhower spoke a flat and graceless midwestern. "I'm going to command the whole shebang," he told his wife at the summit of a meteoric rise from the ruins of an apparently-failed military career.

It's a tough challenge for a biographer, and D'Este's energetic prose manages to keep focused on Eisenhower without letting the more colorful and forceful subordinates crowd him out.