Pulitzer Prize, Biography/Autobiography, 1993
Hailed by critics as an American masterpiece, David McCullough's sweeping biography of Harry S. Truman captured the heart of the nation. The life and times of the 33rd president of the United States, Truman provides a deeply moving look at an extraordinary, singular American.
From Truman's small-town, turn-of-the-century boyhood and his transforming experience in the face of war in 1918, to his political beginnings in the powerful Pendergast machine and his rapid rise to prominence in the U.S. Senate, McCullough shows a man of uncommon vitality and strength of character.
Here too is a telling account of Truman's momentous decision to use the atomic bomb and the weighty responsibilities that he was forced to confront on the dawning of a new age.
Distinguished historian and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author David McCullough tells one of the greatest American stories in this stirring audio adaptation of Truman - a compelling, classic portrait of a life that shaped history.
©2011 Simon & Schuster (P)2003 David McCullough
“McCullough’s marvelous feel for history is based on an appreciation of colorful tales and an insight intopersonalities. In this compelling saga of America’s greatest common-man president, McCullough adds luster to an old-fashioned historical approach.... the sweeping narrative, filled with telling details and an appreciation of the role individuals play in shaping the world.” (Walter Isaacson, Time)
“McCullough is a master storyteller whose considerable narrative skills have been put to exquisite use in re-creating the life and times of America’s 33rd president.” (Robert Dallek, Los Angeles Times Book Review)
“Perhaps the highest tribute one can pay a biographer is to say that through him one comes to know his subject almost as though in person. In fostering the reader’s acquaintance with Harry Truman, not once does McCullough get in the way. This is in every respect a splendid work.” (Myron A. Marty, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
I confess that I grew up during a time where the mention of Truman either caused eye rolling sneers or tight lipped stoney looks. I have always heard the FDR story from Roosevelt's perspective...with Eleanor treating Truman as an imbecile in need of serious help. It was fascinating to hear the same events from Truman's perspective. Rather than being a "complete dope" I found Truman to be hard working, honest and honorable. A solid public servant--upbeat and positive even when things didn't go well or the way he hoped they would.
The best part of this 54+hour listen was that while telling Truman's life story McCullough also told the story of pioneer America. Tracing Truman's ancestors and early life highlighted the settlement of the "frontier". This artfully painted a picture of how totally different our lives have become compared to a hundred plus years ago. The stories of early Missouri and the violent turbulence of Kansas before statehood were engaging. The book is filled with sweeping tales of life in an America long gone.
I loved Runger's narration for the book John Adams. His narration of Truman started out a bit rough. It took one section (about 8 hours) before he hit his stride and warmed to the story he was telling. After that the reading was good.
In the end--Harry Truman proved to be anything but "That Mousy Little Man From Missouri". Recommended if you are interested in American history and love a good biography. I really enjoyed it.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook, that means more than 54 hours, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Little content could have been removed. The narration by Nelson Runger was wonderful. I have complained about his slurping before, but the producers have removed the slurps. His steady clear pace perfectly matches the informative text. His intonation for Truman, was perfect, both the strength of his speeches in the presidency and his reflections, to-the-point remarks and sarcastic jokes of the elderly man. Our voice does change with age, and Runger has mastered this. (Some voices were, however, in my opinion, too low and ponderous.) At the end, and this is a book that covers all aspects of Truman’s life, from birth to death, i.e. 1884-1972, there were tears in my eyes. This is a book about a man dedicated to fighting for his beliefs, but he was a politician at heart. Keep in mind that I tend to instinctively distrust politicians. It is rather remarkable that I so loved this book. I will try to never again shy away from a book about politicians……well, at least such books written by John McCullough.
Why did I love this book? You learn about American life and values as they were when America was still a land of pioneers to what it had become by the middle of the 20th Century. What the political parties stood for has changed dramatically with time. On completion of this book you have a thorough understanding of the American party system. You travel from an agrarian Midwest value mindset through WW1, the Depression, the New Deal, WW2, the emergence of atomic weapons, the birth of the UN and NATO, the Berlin blockade and successful airlift, the Cold War and McCarthyism, the focus on civil rights, the Korean War all the way up to Kennedy’s presidency. You follow this time-period through the life of a man living through its events, and a man who as president shaped many of these events. McCullough gives you a thorough understanding of all these events and a thorough understanding of the man Truman.
It is an honest book that never shies away from the mistakes made. I wasn’t thrilled with Truman’s friendship and dependence upon Pendergast. I felt that Truman’s relationship with his wife was at first not adequately clarified. By the end I understood Truman, all of him. I believe I comprehend both his familial relationships and the value he put on friendships, which explain his relationship with Pendergast . You see both the good and the bad. I very much admire the strength and forthrightness of Truman who was at heart a marvelous politician. Yes, definitely a politician who fought for his party and made mistakes, but dam he tried his best. Always. He never shirked his responsibilities. He never ran away from a problem, but faced them head on. He was not infallible. I still don’t understand why they never had more children……
I was born in 1951. I understand now what my parents lived through and why they were who they were. I understand now what lead up to the world I was born into. I totally loved this book.
My husband has the hard copy of this book -- 949 pages! I was a bit concerned about the length, but despite some unnecessary detail in part one, the book is fascinating. You really feel that you know where this man comes from as the narration unfolds.
I shared the common misconception of Truman's being a dull nebbish. Far from it, like Lincoln, he was a fascinating combination of dirt farmer and intellectual, with a ramrod sense of right and wrong -- a basically decent person. He was not charismatic, but honed his political skills in the machine politics of Missouri before winning his seat in the US senate. He also loved classical music and opera and had considered a career as concert pianist, he played so well. He lived in a fascinating era... succeeding FDR as the second world war wound down, and making some very big decisions such as dropping the atom bomb and our participation in the Korean war.
It's easy to regret these decisions in hindsight. McCullough is mostly non-judgemental, successfully recreating the concerns and zeitgeist of the era, and painting a portrait of a guy of very modest beginnings who rose to meet the challenges of his offices and era. The author does an excellent job, covering Potsdam, McCarthyism, General MacArthur's fall, and the isolationism and demagoguery of the Republican party among many other events.
I'm afraid Nelson Runger is not my favorite narrator. His style is slightly pompous and a bit labored. Ironically, this tone sounds like forties and fifties radio and TV voices, so maybe it's just right. To his credit, he does not mis-pronounce words like so many younger narrators. But the book is well worth a listen and is a great introduction to that era.
I am a Christian wife and mother. I write two blogs. My somewhat theological blog is called "Just Another Clay Pot," and my Fiction/Poetry blog is called "Weightiness and Whimsy."
It's hard to imagine listening to a biography of one life for 54 hours...but this particular life was so packed with amazing events lived by an amazing man, that every hour was justified.
Okay, I'll admit there were a few hours that began to feel a little boring to me at times, particularly about his childhood and his ancestors. But I'm glad I listened to them, because biographies are about knowing people, and people are about all of the factors that shaped them, including the mundanities. Truman never forgot who he was and where he came from, so those shaping influences were necessary to the story.
And, as I'm learning from reading other minutiae-minded authors (such as Marilynne Robinson and even Victor Hugo), the little details provide ambiance, and ambiance immerses the reader, if the reader will allow it to. The reader begins to feel as though he is walking through life with the main character, and where this may not always be exciting, it certainly deepens the understanding and even affection that is developed.
And I became very fond of Harry Truman while listening to this biography. I knew next-to-nothing about him before reading it, but now I feel a deep respect and appreciation for him. Though we disagree on some fundamentals, I can now at least appreciate his positions. And though I can see some of his mistakes, I can respect that they were well-intended mistakes. He was, in short, a good man. And a good man is always worth getting to know. Frankly, that's one important way that this book helped me grow as a person. It showed me how much it's possible to respect someone with whom I disagree on major political issues. And that's a huge gift, because respect is a major antidote to...well...being a knee-jerk JERK. I hope to be less of a knee-jerker with people on the other side of the political spectrum, more interested in getting to know them as people rather than as political labels.
But mistakes and disagreements aside, this man did a phenomenal job in two terms which threw more staggering challenges at him than any previous president had ever faced. Few men could have stood up under the assault. I defy his critics to have done better.
As for the narrator, he was excellent. It must be a challenge to make a 54-hour biography enjoyable to listen to, but he certainly did it.
Somewhere past halfway through the book, something changed in the studio, because the mic picked up a lot of mouth noises from there until the end of the book. But that should reflect on the technicians, not on the narrator himself. And it should certainly not discourage anyone from taking this very worthwhile walk through the life of Harry Truman.
When I first purchased this I didn't realize or remember perhaps that it's a 54 hour listen. I continued to avoid it because of its length, and focused on other items. Finally, I began what I thought would be an ordeal, but instead turned out to be an incredibly rich delight.
McCullough's biography is very thorough and begins with Truman's forebears arriving in Missouri decades before, describing their attitudes and beliefs and those became part of the Truman as president we read & hear about. The scope of the book is all of Truman's life, not just his presidency; from his days running the family farm, artillery officer in WW1, haberdasher, judge, senator, vice-president and president, and his post-presidency.
I guess if you think about it, Truman really was one of the greatest leaders the United States has had. He became president during an extraordinarily tumultuous time in world history - the final chapters of WWII, the use of the atomic bomb, the beginning of the cold war and the UN/US action in Korea. But he was just an ordinary man and he knew it - McCullough captured this vividly in any number of passages, and Nelson Runger, the narrator, does a great job with the material.
In truth, though I dreaded started this 54 hour book, I was actually sad it was over. I wish we had more politicians like Harry Truman. Thank you David McCullough.
I loved listening to this book. Being in my mid 50's I always heard from my parents what a dope Truman was. WRONG! Truman was actually a pretty good President and as honest as they come. The USA was lucky to have him. Fantastic narration as well and the story flows as only McCullough can do. A+++ IMHO
David Mccullough is an American treasure. His comprehensive history of the life, work and legacy of our 33rd president is unparalleled. I will add that Nelson Runger brings the characters to life with his brilliant narration.
This is probably the best biography of Truman out there. In it you not only learn about Truman's presidency but other events going on during his lifetime. My only complaint is that I would have liked it to have covered a little more of Truman's life before the presidency. Overall, it is very informative and well written.
The story of Abraham Lincoln is very similar to that of Truman...from the point of view of his humble beginnings to the path to the presidency.
Nelson brings the characters to life, by changing his voice inflection for each person, singing, and creating an experience that puts you into the story.
No...it's too long and complicated. However, I found myself looking for times to be alone so I could listen to it. Very well done!
"Very long but very good"
This is a very long and detailed account of Harry S Trueman. It is a very good story, did not get bored. The audio book is good to listen to, the narration is excellent, yes it is 54 hours but well worth it.
Full marks for this offering. Truman comes out very well in the telling of this full yet colourful biography. But it doesn't come across as in any way one sided.
"He Gave 'em Hell"
Truman's Presidency was a period of American history I was unfamiliar with - the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Korean war - and McCullough's biography does full justice to the man, and the moments of a great president. Born a decade away from the Frontier, and dying in the atomic age in which he had had to make a momentous decision, Truman's life spanned an era. This biography is well paced, lively, informative, unsparing when it comes to Truman's perceived failings, generous in its appreciation of his skills and strengths as a human being.
Nelson Runger's narration is superb. His pace and vitality informs the book, and I appreciated the way that different players - Dean Acheson, Marshall, Roosevelt were given due weight. He didn't succumb (too much) to hamming up Churchill.
In short, highly recommended.
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