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Publisher's Summary

A major historical biography of George C. Marshall - the general who ran the U.S. campaign during the Second World War, the Secretary of State who oversaw the successful rebuilding of post-war Europe, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize - and the first to offer a complete picture of his life.

While Eisenhower Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, MacArthur, Nimitz, and Leahy waged battles in Europe and the Pacific, one military leader actually ran World War II for America, overseeing personnel and logistics: Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army from 1939 to 1945, George C. Marshall.

This interpretive biography of George C. Marshall follows his life from his childhood in Western Pennsylvania and his military training at the Virginia Military Institute to his role during and after World War II and his death in 1959 at the age of seventy-eight. It brings to light the virtuous historical role models who inspired him, including George Washington and Robert E. Lee, and his relationships with the Washington political establishment, military brass, and foreign leaders, from Harry Truman to Chiang Kai-shek. It explores Marshall’s successes and failures during World War II, and his contributions through two critical years of the emerging Cold War - including the transformative Marshall Plan, which saved Western Europe from Soviet domination, and the failed attempt to unite China’s nationalists and communists.

Based on breathtaking research and filled with rich detail, George Marshall is sure to be hailed as the definitive work on one of the most influential figures in American history.

©2014 Debi and Irwin Unger with Stanley Hirshson (P)2014 HarperCollins Publishers

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 11-12-14

Disappointing

Winston Churchill called George Marshall the organizer of victory in World War II. President Harry Truman said George Marshall made the greatest contribution to the country over the preceding thirty years. Yet we rarely hear or read much about him. “George Marshall: A Biography” was begun some years ago by the historian Stanly Hirshson. After his death in 2003, Debi and Irwin Unger took up the project. The book is based mainly on previously published sources and says relatively little about Marshall’s personal life and the book breaks no new ground. Marshall presented a difficult problem for biographers. Marshall did not write his memories nor did he leave a trail of revealing letters or diaries.

George Marshall was a descendant of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. George Marshall was born in Pennsylvania in 1880. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. He was posted to the Philippines, and then when reassigned to the States he worked at the Infantry and Calvary School at Fort Leavenworth Kansas. In World War I Marshall served as an aid to General John Pershing, planning battles and trying with Pershing to make the case for universal military training. George Marshall was Army Chief of Staff during World War II, transforming a week military to the world’s strongest. The Unger’s reveal how he turned what was an Army of 200,000 ill-trained, ill equipped men in 1939 into one of 8.5 million six years later. It was a huge bureaucratic task and it was done while identifying and elevating men like Eisenhower, Patton, Clark and Bradley through the ranks, dealing with Congress and the British, and not least, strategizing about how to defeat the Japanese and Nazi simultaneously. The authors write that Marshall’s management process was to identify talented men in the War Department and empower them. In other words he was an excellent delegator. Marshall appointed Eisenhower to preside over the Allies and to command D-Day. Marshall was Secretary of State (1947-1949) and fought to sway the acceptance of the Marshall Plan and fought with Congress to enact it. Marshall promoted and encouraged the careers at State of George Kennan and Dean Acheson. Marshall acted brilliantly as Secretary of State and Ambassador to China. He was Secretary of Defense in 1950 and retired to private life in 1951. Marshall won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 the same year Churchill won it for Literature.

The book is not a balanced account. The unexceptional portrait that emerges from the pages of the book consistently under rates or misrepresent Marshall’s motives and the challenges he had to overcome. The Unger strike a revisionist view of Marshall. The Unger’s persistently seem to be looking for any negative flaw in Marshall and if they could not find one, they overlooked or misrepresented Marshal’s motivation and actions to undermine him. Marshall’s integrity outweighed even his military, strategic and diplomatic skill but the authors overlooked this. Forrest C. Pogue’s biography in 1963 and Ed Cray’s “General of the Army” 1990 remain the standard account of Marshall.

What I look for in a biography is a balanced, unbiased reporting of the facts; I except the author to have done due diligence in researching for documentation and to gather verify information from more than one source before reporting it as a fact in the book. I cannot recommend this book unless one already has studied World War Two and the post war period and has a firm understanding of the history of the period and the role Marshall played. Johnny Heller narrated the book.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Adequate but not inspired.

George Marshall, as Chief Of Staff of the US Army during World War 2, was central to the planning, coordination and scheduling of the activities of not only the US military but also, in coordination with the British General Staff, to that of the British and, having read a great deal on the war, I was interested in knowing more about both him and his actions prior to, during and after the war. In particular I was interested in knowing how he, a relatively little known officer in the early 1930s, came to be picked as Army Chief Of Staff over his colleagues, more information about his reputed “little black book” listing the names of those officers he thought both competent and incompetent, his relationship with the British Army General Staff and the Russian political leadership and his actions as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense after the war. Having read a great deal on the war itself I was familiar with most of his actions during the war and was thus more interested in the periods immediately preceding and following the war.

General Marshall’s life and early military career are covered, although not in much detail. Marshall’s life was full considering his rise through the military, his actions to prepare the US for the war, his actives during the war and his public life after the war and this book, at only 15 1/2 hours, is really too short to give much detail. Eisenhower’s recent biography is more than 28 hours, McArthur’s more than 31 hours, William Manchester’s 3 volume Churchill biography is more than 130 hours and FDR’s is more than 32 hours. By comparison this is a short biography and so can not cover much in detail.

In particular I was disappointed in the book's coverage of the period prior to US entry into the war since it did not go into much detail and I did not get most of my questions answered. The book is more complete in its coverage of General Marshall’s actions during the war and very informative about his actions as Secretary of State and of Defense and gives a great deal of information on his thoughts and actions during the Berlin Airlift, the declaration of independence of Israel, the start of the Korean War and other important events.

Although some of the details in the book are inaccurate or, at least, misleading (General McArthur was ordered out of the Philippines by the President, he did not “abandon” his men, Hitler had no treaty obligation to declare war on the US after Pearl Harbor and I have never seen any other author speak of the French Foreign Legion soldiers as being 2nd or 3rd class troops. John Keegan, in his book on World War 2, refers to them as some of the few first class troops in the Western armies.) I generally found the book to be interesting, if a bit short of detail. Some parts, like the discussions of his family and life long friends, were reasonably complete. Other parts, like his rise through the officer ranks, his interactions with those he later appointed to high position and why he rose in rank so quickly in the late 1930s left a great deal to be desired.

So, in general, I found the coverage of the book to be spotty. Marshall’s early Army life is not covered in much detail, there is a great deal of detail about his participation in World War 2, but that coverage is mostly duplicated in any book covering US participation in the war and his time serving as Secretary of State and, later, of Defense, covers his participation in highly public events and was very informative. Johnny Heller’s narration is adequate although his gravelly voice is, at times, a bit annoying. On the whole 3.5 stars.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • Toney, AL United States
  • 09-09-15

Excellent

Before reading this book I knew very little about Marshall other than the post war plan for rebuilding Europe that bears his name. The book, in my opinion, appeared to be very even handed in how it considered his contributions and in some instances his short comings. It really is amazing how many critical issues that arose just before, during and in the aftermath of WW2 that Marshall played a pivotal role.

Probably will be considered one of the greatest administrators in American Military History, yet he never led troops in battle. He wanted to lead D-Day but was told he was too valuable as Chief of Staff and couldn't be spared. So they settled on one of his favored subordinates - Eisenhower. One of the most fascinating aspects of the book was in the very different perspectives on strategy that the British and American Military leadership had. The British were very dubious of opening up a Northern European front and the American leadership saw little value in the Italian campaign.

His Post War performance, which he was probably most know for, has results that were considered good and also some that were not so good. The success of rebuilding western Europe was balanced with what seemed at the time to be a major failure in China and his lack of control of MacArthur.

Some of the characteristics that made him who he was, were fascinating. He believed strongly in identifying good subordinate leaders and delegating to them as much latitude as could be given. Also seems to have been an extremely hard worker, but one who left work when it was quitting time.

Narration took a little getting used to but was in my opinion very good. If you love WW2 history, I would strongly recommend this book - fascinating description of a Great American.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Provided a Balanced Perspective

Would you listen to George Marshall: A Biography again? Why?

Yes. As part of my research in combination with the Kindle version.

What other book might you compare George Marshall: A Biography to and why?

The Wise Men.

What about Johnny Heller’s performance did you like?

Mr. Heller's performance was excellent. It was as if General Marshall was critiquing his own life and accomplishments.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Stoic Tenacity in Tumultuous Times

Any additional comments?

General Marshall remains one of my heroes. Admirers of General Marshall should not be afraid to read this book. It will only confirm what you've probably known all along. He was an imperfect human being that rose to the occasion at critical points in history. And, he like Dwight Eisenhower, believed in General Fox Connors advice: "Always make a big deal about your job; never yourself.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Featuring George Marshall

Fell into the common trap of bio's: the latter half of the book was a history of ww2 & the early Cold War as much as a Marshall bio. This is a common problem, and is forgiveable in popular biographies. In this case though, no one reading about George Marshall is unfamiliar with the era - they are reading his bio to add tp

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Judgments About George Marshall

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

This book has little new primary research and often references earlier works on Marshall and WW2. Rather, it judges (repetitively) Marshall's actions, and those of his contemporaries, and often proposes what were Marshall's motivations (according to the authors) for what he did and how he did it. As a biography, it would be lacking the depth and context for a reader who was not already informed as to the careers of Marshall and other leaders during his era.

What could Debi Unger and Irwin Unger have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

The authors could have included less of their judgments and speculations as to motives, and their opinions as to what would have been superior choices - when they judge Marshall's choices to be deficient. With the passage of time, and the emergence of newly uncovered documents and sources, the authors could have added a rich body of new material from primary sources; a missed opportunity.

Which character – as performed by Johnny Heller – was your favorite?

The performance of the book was read well, with only a few mis-pronounced names and locations.

Any additional comments?

This book would not seem appropriate for those new to the subject wishing to learn about the full career of George Marshall.

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Good biography

Well written. My main observation is that the analysis of Marshall's achievements was balanced by the impact of his character, and focused on the pros and cons of his decisions. The final result of this history, the allied victory, and post war peace and world order, perhaps was affected by his character and spirit more than by his achievements. His temperance and prudence displayed his character, which all admired. I would say he was a man of peace and a great American. Maybe we needed that spirit more than we needed brilliance. I learned a lot of history from this book and got a good insight into the spirit of Marshall and of the times. Johnny Heller did an excellent job with a pleasant and expressive narration.

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Character Makes the Man

I knew very little about George Marshall, so I found this biography enlightening and interesting. The authors bend over backward to be absolutely objective, not to make Marshall, nor indeed any of the military or political leaders of WWII, look heroic. Marshall comes across as a great man mainly because of his character, his values(perseverance, duty, service, integrity), and his great contribution to the Allies' success in the Atlantic front of the War. The authors, in their efforts to debunk the mythology surrounding Marshall, may err on the side of underestimating his abilities.

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loved it

loved it. was throughout with out being a burden. good insight into the man and the times

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Don't waste your time

For every recognition of Marshall's achievement, expect three reasons why the authors felt he failed.

3 of 7 people found this review helpful