John Eisenhower believes that his father's military career was much more important to him and to history than his eight years as a popular president. "Ike," as the author's father was universally known, passionately defended his military judgments, and late in life, when he was asked to name the greatest men he had worked with, most of them came from his pre-presidential years.
General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence is a fascinating look behind the scenes at Eisenhower and his relationships with the generals and statesmen whose decisions led the Allies to victory in Europe and Africa. The author brings unique credentials to this task. In addition to being Eisenhower's son, he is a retired brigadier general, former ambassador to Belgium and a best-selling military historian. His portraits of the principle figures and comprehensive historical background regarding tactical, diplomatic and political decisions add much to the value and enjoyment of the book.
As the author shows, Ike was modest but also ambitious. He and George Patton were longtime friends, and Ike was willing to defend Patton's inappropriate conduct because Patton's effective leadership was crucial to the Allied cause. But Ike's biggest burden was British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, or "Monty." John Eisenhower details some of their major differences and concludes that Monty "probably did more than any other figure of World War II to damage Anglo-American friendship." Despite this, their disagreements did no serious harm to the war effort.
The author discusses the American officers who influenced Ike: Fox Conner, who recognized his potential; Douglas MacArthur, with whom he worked in the Philippines; and George Marshall, to whom Ike felt indebted for his extraordinary rise and for whom "he never lost a touch of veneration." But Ike had a particularly important relationship with Winston Churchill. Both played many different roles in wartime that occasionally led to sharp differences; still, their friendship survived. This insightful and carefully crafted gem of a book demonstrates what Ike's son told Congress in 1990: "Ike's hands were always on the task at hand . . . he thought of himself primarily as a dedicated public servant, one who placed his country above himself." Roger Bishop is a Nashville bookseller and a regular contributor to BookPage.