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TRUMAN by David McCullough

by Ethan Russell

I found the John Adams book to be so motivating that I began to read biographies of our Presidents to fill out the timeline from Adams until today, with no clearly defined road map but with a sudden, renewed interest.
As I read my way haphazardly through American (and occasionally world) history, I read the lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Roosevelt (A Traitor to His Class), and Harry Truman. I read a history of Jamestown, a biography of Franklin and Eleanor, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s A Team of Rivals, William Manchester’s extraordinary tale of the Pacific War, Goodbye Darkness, and his two volumes on the life of Winston Churchill. And during this process it dawned on me that the history with which I was most familiar, my own, did not seem to be represented in a way that did it justice; there was nothing that seemed to capture my own era in its fullness.* I wondered to myself whether I was alone in my sense that any of this mattered. But I found it mattered deeply to me, if only so I might leave something for my young son. And while I suspect that it is not unusual for people’s interest in history to increase as they get older, my interest is not academic. I believe the history of my generation has been reduced to that of a cartoon. Steal my history? Steal my life.


What I found particularly interesting about Harry Truman’s life — who I thought of (reasonably enough) as a modern President — was how young the America was in which he grew up. As I write in AMERICAN STORY “Still to become states were North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii. The town Eisenhower grew up in — Abilene, Kansas — had a population of less than 4,000, and no police force. As a child, Harry Truman lived on his grandparents’ 600-acre farm before moving to Independence, Missouri (population 6,381) when he was six years old. American roads weren’t paved, and it would be thirty years before the Model-T would appear on America’s landscape.”


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Truman - David McCullough

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