Eisenhower was a mystery in many ways to his own family. Although almost always surrounded in retirement by a coterie of relatives, friends, political supporters, or army and golfing buddies, he could be remote, brusque, intimidating and short- tempered – traits no doubt honed during his military career. The author writes that he once asked Mamie Eisenhower why her husband was so restless and whether his omnipresent entourage “revealed a weakness, perhaps a fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life.” Not satisfied with his grandmother’s answer, he followed up by asking her if she had really known her husband of 45 years. “I’m not sure anyone did,” she replied. The author writes later in the book, “To me, Dwight Eisenhower had always been imposing and at times unapproachable, and I had never understood why people thought of him as so genial.”
Delectable insights like this, personal and political, are scattered throughout the book, but the reader has to trek across some dead patches to find them, such as a chapter highlighted by Eisenhower’s recipe for barbecue sauce or a stretch about young Republicans in love (i.e. David and Julie), which could have used way more spice. It was the 1960s, for Pete’s sake. The author, whose other book chronicled his grandfather’s World War II service, is capable of sentences like this one: “Granddad’s stream of consciousness covered whatever was on his mind.”
Nonetheless, despite an incestuous aura about the book – it tiptoes around the sometimes touchy relationship between Nixon and Eisenhower, for example – it does wade into other troubled waters. Eisenhower, whose politics were so amorphous that he was approached by President Harry Truman in 1947 to head the 1948 Democratic ticket (the incumbent was willing to assume the role of second banana), was not a Republican in the contemporary sense of the word. He may have had serious reservations (detailed in the book) about his dashing young successor, John F. Kennedy, but the two conferred fairly often on matters great and small. And the elder statesman gave advice that he hoped would help Kennedy succeed for the good of the nation. It was all very ecumenical by today’s standards.