15 Stars is more than just a clever book title. It represents the collective careers of three five-star generals: Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower. These three military giants led the United States to victory in World War II and helped shape the world following the war. Not since the immense fame of Grant, Sherman and Lee at the close of the Civil War have three generals become such household names, writes Stanley Weintraub, an accomplished author of more than 50 histories and biographies, many with military themes.
But while these generals were contemporaries, they were a study in contrasts. MacArthur was urbane and egotistical. Marshall exuded quiet confidence. Eisenhower was modest and unassuming. And their relationships to each other were complex. Colleagues, and on occasion competitors, they leapfrogged each other, sometimes stonewalled each other, even supported and protected each other, throughout their celebrated careers, Weintraub writes.
And each accomplished great things: MacArthur conquered the Pacific Theater; Marshall brought order to postwar Europe; Eisenhower was the architect of D-Day. But only one, Eisenhower, would achieve the greatest prize: the presidency. In the public mind they appeared, in turn, as glamour, integrity, and competence, Weintraub writes. But for the twists of circumstance, all three rather than one might have occupied the White House. 15 Stars chronicles those circumstances, from the start of World War II to the height of the Cold War. It is a well-researched book that thoroughly examines the lives of three American military icons. The material is complicated, but Weintraub's easy writing makes it understandable and engaging. The book reads like a literary narrative, beginning with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and ending in the twilight of each man's life. It is a worthy choice for the bookshelf of any reader who loves military history or historical nonfiction. John T. Slania is a journalism professor at Loyola University in Chicago.