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Recent biographies quote Eisenhower as saying, about avoiding WWIII in the 1950s, that it didn't just happen, by God. Thomas undertakes to unpack Ike's meaning. As the title implies, Eisenhower exuded ambiguity, often in his famously mangled grammar, about whether he would ever unleash nuclear weapons. America's Communist adversaries could not be certain, nor, as Thomas illustrates in his accounts of Cold War hot spots like Korea, Indochina, Formosa, and Berlin, could even his closest advisors, that he would not push the button in a crisis. Arguing that maintaining such uncertainty was intentional, Thomas compares Ike's methods to his passion for playing poker and bridge, which involve deception and anticipation of opponents' moves. The strain of the pretense that is, Thomas is not convinced Eisenhower ever would have used the atom bomb seemed to aggravate his explosive temper, visible in many anecdotes Thomas lifts from diaries by Ike's doctor and secretary. Generally approving of Eisenhower's ways of warding off the apocalypse, Thomas' study boosts the upward trend of Eisenhower's reputation in recent scholarship.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist
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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 (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Often derided as an inattentive national grandfather, Eisenhower emerges as a subtle, sharp-witted master statesman in this probing study of his foreign and security policies. Historian Thomas (The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898) paints a colorful, richly detailed portrait of a man whose habit of hiding his cutting intellect, volcanic temper, and poker-player's instincts behind public grins and vague pronouncements amounted to a profound political strategy. Eisenhower's low-key nuclear brinkmanship anchors the book. Thomas argues that Ike's deliberately ambiguous statements about using nuclear weapons caused the Soviets and Chinese to back off. His duplicity and indirection prevailed in everything from the Suez Crisis to his battle against bloated defense budgets. The result, Thomas contends, was an audacious geopolitical gamble: while dreading the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, Ike embraced a doctrine of massive retaliation that put nuclear war at the heart of American strategy-and then adroitly used it to defuse military confrontations. Thomas's appreciation of Eisenhower is sometimes too sunny; he says little about Ike's approval of CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala and the troubled interventionist path they charted. Still, his vivid, compelling profile of Eisenhower-the man and the shrewd operator-should spark reconsideration of his presidency. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Sept. 25) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.