Truman is David McCullough’s Pulitzer-winning biography of the U.S. president Harry Truman (1945-1953). McCullough is a highly acclaimed and respected historian and author who is primarily acknowledged for his John Adams biography. The book that was published in 1992 examines Truman’s life and his presidency. The work includes blow-by-blow account of such landmark events as the resolution to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, about which Truman showed no concerns (Miscamble, 2008). It similarly describes the crucial meetings with Stalin and Churchill at the culmination of the Second World War, the Marshall Plan, and the resolution to deploy troops in the Korean War among others. The author is a proficient biographer, he analyzes historical events with gripping detail, and he similarly connects only the appropriate amount of subjective evaluation with objective facts. Owing to the author’s unique approach, the reader not only grasps an awareness of Harry Truman as a historical person but also has a capability to learn a lot about the period of history in which he lived. The biography reveals an engaging and lively writing manner of the author showing once again that he is a proficient storyteller who is capable of creating an articulate and interesting narrative that reads more like fiction than a real story.

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Content and Theme

The biography focuses on a comprehensive description of Truman’s whole life beginning with his grandparents and concluding with his death. Harry Truman spent his early years in Independence, Missouri, working as a farmer. Later he became a student and then he served in the First World War (McCullough, n.d.). His account goes on further to his time in the Senate and eventually ascension to the presidency after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. It was the time when Roosevelt had envisioned a collaboration of the ‘big four’ to ensure prosperity and peace (Miscamble, 2008). Truman stepped into the career with alacrity and confidently made decisions that would enable America’s win of the Second World War (McCullough, n.d.). The themes established in the book revolve around Truman’s honesty and hatred of greed and corruption. For example, after Truman entered the Senate, his first speech was against corporate greed. Raised in a family that honored moral values and ethics, Truman had to face corruption from the very first steps of his political career in Missouri (McCullough, 2012). There exist some proofs that if Truman had taken bribes at that time, his career would have much accelerated. Harry never declared himself bankrupt, and he honored all debts he owed. It is his frankness that aided him in dealing with individuals like Stalin, MacArthur, and McCarthy.

The content of the book revolves around Truman and his qualities in the course of his life and career as a great leader who impacted the world history. Truman was influenced by his mother who was like a rock during good and bad times and his father who was an unsuccessful businessman but who taught teenage Truman the work ethics and the trait of never despairing no matter what the obstacles were.

In the book, McCullough challenges the commonly held perception of history that Truman represented nothing more than just an ordinary man of mediocre abilities who acquired presidency nearly accidentally and owed his political accomplishment to his loyalty to the Kansas City political bosses and the Democratic Party. However, Truman has been described in the course as a historic leader who employed his many leadership qualities to take the United States to another world and keep this world in check. McCullough contradicts the long held view by acquainting the reader with an increasingly intelligent, complex and competent man and a highly principled politician whose capability to evaluate other people’s characters enabled him to choose great men to serve in his government.

The content and themes of the book, presented in a biographical format, successfully complement the textbook of the American History. The book is meticulously animated, consistently engaging and giving food for thought.

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Opinion and Lessons Learned

In my opinion of the book, its substantiality is the greatest weakness as the narration gets bogged down regularly. The author spends much time on Truman’s early years whereby readers who would only be interested in critique and thoughts of his most essential time would likely give up. By incorporating everything conceivable that he knows, the author loses the thread as the best sections are at times captured with very mundane matters, from relentless musings on Truman’s maternal life to his father’s many failed ventures and the relationships with the people whom he visited during his presidency. When talking about Truman’s presidency, the author takes substantial time to cover everything that one could imagine, for instance, the restructuring of the Whitehouse during his tenure. Such details may be tedious to the reader. Additionally, vast sections of the book cannot be described as “reading for pleasure” material. Most specific are the opening chapters where there is an extended history of Truman’s family going back some generations before he was born, which is hardly relevant when evaluating Truman himself.

Another observation is evident on every page with the author being unceasingly sympathetic to Truman, thus nearing to bias. It is no surprise hence that Mr.McCullough is a recipient of the highest U.S. award for civilians, the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Sherman, 2006). The writer appears to be attempting to excuse Truman’s flaws by placing them on others like his failure to stand up to McCarthyism among others (McCullough, 2012). I similarly observed that the author inclines to exploit the dramatic moments, which might not be desirable to everyone. An instance to note is when Truman learns of Roosevelt’s demise, which reads as if the author is describing a movie scene. Nonetheless, I also learned a lot. Biographies of presidents are usually considered portraits of leadership. They are instructive, and from Truman’s biography, I became aware of how far straight talk, decency, and cheerfulness may take one. It is alleged that Bush read about Truman and his presidency while in office. This may be because the former saw some similarity of their tenures; both had significant foreign policy decisions in their earlier years in office. Additionally, both leaders revealed great determination in instituting challenging choices in the face of criticism. It is my opinion that though with some few shortcomings, McCullough’s biography of Truman is an exceptional book with a common lesson that a relatively simple person from the Midwest may run and accomplish an efficient presidency.


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