Eisenhower is an evenhanded account that reveals the sources and reasoning behind its conclusions, a signature of a great historian and confident researcher. Smith does not shy from showing Eisenhower’s flaws, including a fundamental impenetrability that occasionally turned to coldness. Smith lays out his passionate wartime affair with his bright, attractive British driver, Kay Summersby. While Eisenhower contemplates marrying Summersby, he gushes a flood of insincere letters to his wife, Mamie: “I desperately miss you.…” Then he drops Summersby by sending her an impersonal note when he returns home after the war to re-embrace Mamie — and his ambitions. “George Patton would have said a warmer goodbye to his horse,” notes Smith.
After the war, Eisenhower, who claimed he wanted to semi-retire and live on a farm, took on high-profile work while Harry S. Truman finished out his second term as president. He set Columbia University’s fiscal house in order as its president and served as supreme commander of NATO. When calls for him to run for president reached a crescendo, Eisenhower set what must be a record for coyness by lingering in Europe with NATO rather than filing in the early primaries. His sponsors — determined as always — won him the nomination through a brokered convention that resembled a coup. Once more, Eisenhower made the most of his opportunity; during the eight years he spent in the White House, his legacies multiplied as fast as his popularity ratings rose.
Smith’s magisterial book sparkles throughout with lessons from Eisenhower’s life and career. Late in his years, the former president warned that the U.S. must “avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” Forging these confederations was how Eisenhower changed the world. It’s a worthwhile lesson to consider as we face the challenges of our own age.
Aesthetics and Technology
Walter Isaacson opens Steve Jobs with the tale of a wavering courtship in which Jobs first seeks him out to write his biography, then becomes skittish, and finally recommits when his pancreatic cancer advances and it is clear Jobs’s story will soon end. Jobs spoke openly to Isaacson of his enemies, friends, erstwhile friends, and, to a lesser degree, himself. Others filled in the rest of the portrait of one of technology’s most charismatic titans — along with providing a much-needed check on Jobs’s tendency to create his own reality.
Jobs saw his importance in his ability to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences, a theme that he suggests and Isaacson adopts for the biography. By this, Jobs did not mean he simply stood there; he plainly saw himself as transmuting these disciplines through the alchemy of his genius into a perfected whole. (Jobs never claimed to be modest.) He cared about the tiniest details and relied on a powerful intuition to bring emotional resonance to designs that he insisted be executed flawlessly. Trying to copy Jobs, one source observes, would be like trying to copy Picasso by using red paint. In fact, the lessons in his story are most powerful when considered as a cautionary tale.
Steven Paul Jobs was born in 1955, the son of an unmarried Wisconsin university student and a Syrian Muslim teaching assistant, who put him up for adoption. His adoptive father, Paul Jobs, a high school dropout with a passion for mechanics and woodworking, instilled in his son an appreciation for the sanctity of craftsmanship. Growing up in what would become Silicon Valley, the boy was surrounded by friends whose parents were engineers.
To his credit, Isaacson makes clear that Jobs was by no means destined for greatness. Had he been raised as a Syrian–American by his “dreamy, peripatetic” birth mother in Wisconsin, there is no telling how his life would have turned out. As it did transpire, Jobs often was his own worst enemy. This point is made unmistakably, and entertainingly, through accounts of his bohemian, bizarre, selfish, willful, and cruel behavior.