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Where the Buck Stops: The Personal and Private Writings of Harry S. Truman Hardcover – 1 Oct 1989
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Where the Buck Stops provides an intriguing look at the United States and its leaders through the perspective of the 33rd president. In his incomparable manner, Truman delves into a variety of historical topics, offering his viewpoints on the presidency, government, and historical events. Most compelling, however, is Truman’s examination of who he considered the best and worst presidents in United States history. No topic or public figure is too controversial for Truman to tackle; he required that the book be published after he and his wife passed away.
The man who called himself an average American has left behind an extraordinary book.
Truman has been known for his simple, direct, no-nonsense approach. Ronald Reagan called his style "blunt and succinct". This certainly is evident in this book. He feels that presidents can be grouped into three categories: very good, good and good-for-nothing. However, he sets no specific criteria or point system for judging but depends on his general knowledge of the president and his achievements. Thus Andrew Jackson is very good, but Eisenhower is no good. President Harding's performance is poor but Jefferson's is superior. Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan were "do-nothing " presidents. Calvin Coolidge, like Eisenhower, was a "sit-still" president. An so on.
It is evident that judging others can be a sensitive issue especially if one resorts to scathing remarks and harsh expressions; this approach is further aggravated if the criticised president is generally admired by the public, like Eisenhower or Harding. Was that perhaps the reason why Truman instructed his daughter not have this book published until he and Mrs.Truman had passed away? In the epilogue, even Margaret herself expresses concern about whether the public would find her father's harsh remarks rather offensive to many people.
From another angle it seems obvious that passing judgement on others can be a reflection on the nature of the person who is judging. For instance, implicit in Truman's criticisms of others is that he was a "very good" president himself. This may be generally true within the United States. In the rest of the world, and judging by others' writings, he was viewed as the President who dropped the bomb annihilating two large cities with their entire populations. With regards to foreign policy, which he regards as essential, he was not as wise and diplomatic as, for example, Jimmy Carter, who through patience and diplomacy brought peace to a troubled Middle East. Such expressions by Truman, as "I don't give a damn what the Arabs like..." don't reflect wisdom and patience on the part of a great leader in dealing with the outside world.
All in all, however, the reader must give credit to Truman and his daughter Margaret, for a good coverage of such a vast subject. The facts, opinions and anecdotes about every president, although highly opinionated, are amusing and entertaining and make for a good reading.
The book - a potpourri of ancedote and opinion...Harry's opinion.
The press is not spared in ''Where the Buck Stops.'' If anything reporters - unnamed - are skewered as much as Presidents.
Truman had an opinion on everything and might rightly be accused of dogmatism and self-righteousness. But unlike so many Presidents, he understood what the job was all about.
He writes that a strong President has to decide what has to be done within his powers under the Constitution and then do it, regardless of the consequences. ''It doesn't make any difference whether or not the thing he decides to do is unpopular, or whether his doing it makes him unpopular for a while. If he does the right thing the popularity will come. If he doesn't, well, then, too bad.''
His daughter may have made an editorial change here or there. Perhaps she cleaned up the language a bit,(she did) but the book is Trumanesque in all respects: one can almost hear that Missouri twang as one reads Truman on Truman.
However, the real reason I enjoyed this book was that it educated me about the presidency and how it has evolved over the years. Truman pulled back the covers on many a set of "dirty secrets" and pulled away he veneer that has shielded too many of our presidents who were badly flawed.
I strongly recommend this book.