After getting snippets of Eisenhower's career in the Rick Atkinson and Citizens of London books, I decided I wanted a full biography of Ike so I could follow his background, and try to follow his rise from long-time major in the interwar army to commander of the European theater - whic h happened in less than a year, although it's not as easy to track precisely in this book, which was one of my problems with it.
This is a really fine book - well-written, thorough, and full of different judgments on Eisenhower's action, many of which the author is careful to point out and explain. I ended up having a new appreciation for Eisenhower's abilities as an organizer and a leader, and especially for his nuanced performance in the presidency, where he made it look so effortless that it's easy to forget how masterful a performance he made as commander in chief during the Cold War. His faults are just as interesting though - from letting the Suez crisis get out of hand while recuperating from serious health problems, to repeated tactical blunders during the actions in North Africa, Italy, and D-Day and after. Eisenhower made lots of mistakes, Smith makes clear, but he got the big things right.
My problem was that the author for unknown reasons gets things out of sequence and I ended up wondering if there was a cause and effect in some cases. For example, he mentions when Eisenhower got his second star in early 1942, then goes backwards a few weeks to when his father died, and then forward a week or two to when he prepared and presented the strategic plan for the war that was adopted by his superiors, including FDR. But Smith doesn't explain why Marshall approved Eisenhower's second star in March of 1942, and on checking the dates I realized it was a matter of days after Eisenhower's plan was approved. Were the two connected? The reader wouldn't know because in the narrative Eisenhower already has his second star when his plan is approved by FDR. But in fact it postdated that, or at least postdated the plan's approval by the War Department. I would have been interested in knowing how this activity affected Eiszenhower's promotion.
Another example explained that the U.S. war leaders were facing a crisis in the South Pacific in the late summer of 1942 because four of its six available carriers were sunk and the other two were in drydock. Therefore "on July ___, 1942" FDR did such and such to respond to this crisis. The problem is that this is completely wrong. In July 1942 the U.S. Navy had lost two carriers, but it had four healthy carriers underway to support the landings on Guadalcanal. Now by November two more had been sunk and both the survivors heavily damaged, and Saratoga was in fact in drydock, but one carrier - Enterprise - was on station. My point is that thinsg were not ever as bad as Smith claims, and at the time he refers to, things were actually going swimmingly in the South Pacific - so the alleged motivation or the circumstances surrounding FDR's actions are simply wrong. Not a major point, perhaps, but if this wasn't the reason for FDR's actions, what were?
I also was really startled by the way the book trailed off at the end, and essentially had no conclusion. That may have been because the conclusion was up front, but I had expected a wrapup to summarize what the significance of this man's life was, and was surprised that I didn't get it.