Citizen Soldier by Aida Donald
A Life of Harry S. Truman

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In Citizen Soldier, historian Aida Donald charts the life and legacy of the thirty-third president, who rose from a modest background to preside over the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War—one of the most momentous shifts of the twentieth century.

Born in late 19th-century Missouri to a family of down-on-their-luck farmers, Truman was an utter romantic and something of a mama’s boy during his childhood. As a young entrepreneur, he experienced several crushing defeats, and only truly found a sense of purpose when he enlisted in the army in 1917. Truman cut his teeth as a leader while serving in an artillery unit in the Missouri National Guard, and returned to the States something of a hero. Back home, however, Truman soon found himself on the losing end of another business venture. When the father of an army buddy encouraged him to run as the Democratic candidate for a judgeship in Jackson County, Missouri, Truman took the plunge into politics.

Truman’s road to the presidency was a rocky one. Donald shows that Truman tried to honor his romantic ideals and be an honest politician, but had to compromise his values in order to get ahead in politics. Indeed, the corruption of some of his early political bedfellows so distressed Truman that he suffered acute psychosomatic illness as a result. But his hard work and dogged persistence eventually paid off, landing him in the U.S. Senate and then the vice presidency. When FDR passed away in April of 1945, Truman unexpectedly found himself at the helm of the American war effort—and in command of the most lethal weapon humanity had ever seen. Truman’s order to detonate nuclear bombs over Japan four months after assuming the presidency quickly brought World War II to a close, but has of course troubled many historians. Donald takes a candid look at the issue, using untapped sources to explain Truman’s decision-making process and expand our understanding of that world-changing moment.

With remarkable clarity and insight, Donald shows how, perhaps more than any other head of state, Truman delineated the complex international order that would dominate the four decades after World War II. Donald also explores the political dimensions of Truman’s presidency, paying special attention to his Fair Deal, which shored up and extended the liberal programs of FDR’s New Deal, laying the groundwork for future reforms and helping to fundamentally transform the country we live in today. Many of Truman’s accomplishments went unappreciated at the time; he managed to hang onto the presidency for a second term, but that was marred by scandal, including a Senate investigation into corruption among officials in Truman’s administration, and he left the White House with an abysmal approval rating, considered by many to be a failed president. Only with hindsight, Donald says, can we truly appreciate Truman’s complex legacy.

In Citizen Soldier, Donald reveals the moments of astonishing greatness and, at times, profound disappointment that defined Truman’s life. A psychologically penetrating portrait, Citizen Soldier presents this underdog president in his many shades of grey, never shying from describing his shortcomings or failures, but also giving full attention to his many accomplishments as a politician and leader.

About Aida Donald

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Aida D. Donald is the author of Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt. She holds a Ph.D. in American history and has taught at Columbia University. Formerly editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press, Donald lives in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Published October 2, 2012 by Basic Books. 288 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Donald argues that Truman's psychological state while a senator from Missouri opens vital vistas on his performance as an accidental president, and her most searing insight involves Truman's loyalty to family, to political allies and to soldiers with whom he served.

Aug 01 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

Publishers Weekly

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Boosting a revamped political profile of President Harry S. Truman, Donald suggests that this son of Missouri farmers, at the peak of his powers during post-WWII America, was one of the most effective

Aug 03 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

Publishers Weekly

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Taking a psychological approach, Donald stresses Truman’s experiences as an officer in WWI in shaping the self-described “sissy” into a man ready for any challenge, who though tarnished by an early affiliation with the corrupt Pendergast machine in Kansas City, rose through the political ra...

Aug 06 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

The Washington Times

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Aida Donald's "Citizen Soldier: A Life of Harry S. Truman" doesn't try to do too much. It doesn't have to. Truman has been the subject of several expansive biographies in the last few decades, most notably one by David McCullough. So it is to Ms. Donald's credit that "Citizen Soldier" checks in a...

Oct 24 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

City Book Review

Donald explores the dark haunts of Truman’s psyche as he fought Congress over domestic programs, wrestled with ending the war by nuking the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and wrangled with MacArthur over North Korea.

Oct 11 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

Look At OKC

Those who want a concise book about an improbable president who became one of the nation's most revered should read “Citizen Soldier: A Life of Harry S.

Dec 02 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...


Douglas MacArthur, and staunch support for the fledgling United Nations have all led historians to conclude that Truman, who consistently makes their top-ten presidents lists, was the very embodiment of Shakespeare’s third part of greatness, one of those who had “greatness thrust upon them.” Don...

Oct 26 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

(CNN) -- As Americans make up their minds and gear up to vote, CNN asks some of America's foremost presidential historians to weigh in on the question: What does it take to make a president great?.

Oct 28 2012 | Read Full Review of Citizen Soldier: A Life of Ha...

Tucson Citizen

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive.

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