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The Trials of Harry S. Truman

The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953

Jeffrey Frank


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Compact Disc (3/8/2022)


Jeffrey Frank, author of the bestselling Ike and Dick, returns with the first full account of the Truman presidency in nearly thirty years, recounting how so ordinary a man met the extraordinary challenge of leading America through the pivotal years of the mid-20th century.

The nearly eight years of Harry Truman’s presidency—among the most turbulent in American history—were marked by victory in the wars against Germany and Japan; the first use of an atomic weapon; the beginning of the Cold War; creation of the NATO alliance; the founding of the United Nations; the Marshall Plan to rebuild the wreckage of postwar Europe; the Red Scare; and the fateful decision to commit troops to fight in Korea.

Historians have tended to portray Truman as stolid and decisive, with a homespun manner, but the man who emerges in The Trials of Harry S. Truman is complex and surprising. He believed that the point of public service was to improve the lives of one’s fellow citizens, and was disturbed by the brutal treatment of African Americans. Yet while he supported stronger civil rights laws, he never quite relinquished the deep-rooted outlook of someone with Confederate ancestry reared in rural Missouri. He was often carried along by the rush of events and guided by men who succeeded in refining his fixed and facile view of the postwar world. And while he prided himself on his Midwestern rationality, he could act out of emotion, as when, in the aftermath of World War II, moved by the plight of refugees, he pushed to recognize the new state of Israel.

The Truman who emerges in these pages is a man with generous impulses, loyal to friends and family, and blessed with keen political instincts, but insecure, quick to anger, and prone to hasty decisions. Archival discoveries, and research that led from Missouri to Washington, Berlin and Korea, have contributed to an indelible, and deeply human, portrait of an ordinary man suddenly forced to shoulder extraordinary responsibilities, who never lost a schoolboy’s romantic love for his country, and its Constitution.

Praise For The Trials of Harry S. Truman: The Extraordinary Presidency of an Ordinary Man, 1945-1953

" Just terrific—with a perfect tone, and a perfect understanding of Truman's strengths and shortcomings. Frank has managed this with emphases on sociology, culture, and a profound and deep understanding of the human struggle.” – Bob Woodward

"Frank’s talent as a novelist is on display here. With this refreshing and much needed reexamination of Truman's life, Frank establishes himself as a source of value to any reader interested in mid-twentieth century America." —Richard Lawrence Miller, author of Truman: The Rise to Power and Lincoln and His World

“A remarkable window into America's great Cold War president. Because Frank is such a sublime writer, his heroic recounting of the Truman presidency is dazzling. This is intellectual biography at its absolute finest." — Douglas Brinkley is the Katherine Tsanoff Brown Chair in Humanities and Professor of History at Rice University and author of American Moonshot:  John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race

“Frank’s lively account of Truman’s time in office evokes a pivotal time with vivid, carefully-gleaned detail. And it’s an appropriate book for this political moment, when a lot of us are hoping that an ordinary man will turn out to be an extraordinary president.” —Adam Hochschild, author of ten books, including Rebel Cinderella

"A fresh, deeply human perspective... Frank’s sensitive, empathetic portrait gave me a new appreciation for this innately decent, caring man, who, for all his stumbles, was committed to making a better world for those who lived in it." Lynne Olson, New York Times bestselling author of Citizens of London and Madame Fourcade's Secret War

"Pitch-perfect…. clear-eyed, wise, and compassionate—in a word, humane. Jeffrey Frank’s lovely book lets us see up close how Harry Truman’s decisions, sometimes considered, sometimes not, laid the foundation for the kind of world power the United States is today." Louis Menand, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Free World and The Metaphysical Club

"Massively researched, engagingly written… An intimate, revealing history of a time, and of a president, whose straightforward persona masked a more complicated, sometimes tortured man during a truly extraordinary period.” — Robert L. Messer, author of The End of an Alliance: James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman and the Origins of the Cold War

“An intimate, vivid portrait of our 33rd president and his times….  a chance to rediscover one of the most improbable and compelling figures in American history.” — Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Liberation Trilogy and The British Are Coming.

"“An absorbing reexamination of [his] two-term presidency. … provides further depth and nuance to the character dynamics of Truman and his administration…..A well-researched, engagingly human portrait of this complex mid-20th-century political leader." — Kirkus Reviews 

Simon & Schuster, 9781501102899, 576pp.

Publication Date: March 8, 2022

About the Author

Jeffrey Frank was a senior editor at The New Yorker, the deputy editor of The Washington Post’s Outlook section, and is the author of Ike and Dick. He has published four novels, among them the Washington Trilogy—The Columnist, Bad Publicity, and Trudy Hopedale—and is the coauthor, with Diana Crone Frank, of a new translation of Hans Christian Andersen stories, which won the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Prize. He is a contributor to The New Yorker, and has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Bookforum, and Vogue, among other publications.