Kabe 009

by David McCullough

A quiet bespectacled boy who didn’t take part in sports, choosing  piano lessons instead, Harry grew up working hard on his father’s farm.They were always having to take out another  mortgage on the farm and never out of debt. There was no chance for him to go to college but he worked at many moneymaking schemes, mostly getting more in debt as he spent long hours baling hay and running the farm.

Young Harry

Young Harry

From school days, there was only one girl for Harry, Elizabeth ( Bess ) Wallace, the daughter of a wealthier family. She turned down his proposal but they stayed friends and Harry never stopped visiting her and writing to her until she finally agreed they would some day marry.

The war intervened and Harry passed the army physical by memorizing the eye chart. He was sent to artillery school and became an officer, serving with honor in France from 1918. He was always fair and his men greatly respected him.

Harry's favorite photo of Bess which he carried with him in France

Harry’s favorite photo of Bess which he carried with him in France

He finally married Bess after he returned from the war. They eventually had one daughter, Margaret. Harry entered politics after he failed as a haberdasher, becoming a presiding judge in Independence, Missouri. In those days, it was common for local politics to be under the control of one powerful boss and Harry Truman was put in his position by Tom Pendergast.

Harry and Bess  on their wedding day, June 28, 1919

Harry and Bess on their wedding day, June 28, 1919

Later, he became a state senator. Although he did reward supporters with appointments, this was the usual practice at the time. In all other points, Harry Truman was a man of great integrity who always tried to do what was right even if it might cause him damage politically.

Truman did not have the wealth or the education of Roosevelt, Wilson or Taft. He never sought to be the Vice President or wanted the presidency. It fell to him suddenly upon Roosevelt’s death. Truman had great respect for the presidency and conducted himself well, according to McCullough.

Harry S. Truman

Harry S. Truman

Truman faced difficult times, making the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan, facing the Cold War and sending troops into Korea. He oversaw the creation of the United Nations, aided Europe in recovery under the Marshall Plan, successfully carried out the Berlin airlift and  established NATO. He did much more than he is usually given credit for.

He was remembered as the first president to recommend Medicare, remembered for the courage of his stand on civil rights at the risk of his political fortunes. (David McCullough, Truman)

McCullough points out that Truman was born in  “the Gilded age,” of steam engines and that his life and career spanned more change in the world than any other prior period.

A son of rural, inland  America, raised only a generation removed from the frontier,…he had to assume command of the most powerful industrial nation on earth at the moment when that power, in combination with stunning advances in science and technology, had become an unparalleled force in the world. The responsibilities he bore were like those of  no other president before him, and he more than met the test.  (David mcCullough, Truman)


“I tried never to forget who I was and where I’d come from and where I was going back to.”

This Pulitzer-winning biography is long at 992 pages, but it is never dull or repetitive. It took a little effort to read due to the length, but I am glad to have become acquainted with the man, Harry S. Truman. At the same time, the book provides a very readable history of  our country at a pivotal time. Great book.


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