"The purpose of this book is to show the mind of a man and not to write a final history," author William Hillman remarks toward the end of his fascinating compilation of Harry S. Truman's thoughts, writings, and speeches. The material is highly selective and presented with little unity, but the mind of the man emerges quite clearly.
It is an interesting mind, and not only because it belongs to the present President of the United States. It is a mind without glamour and illusions, a highly moral and intensely practical mind. Interviews, letters, and private memoranda reveal primarily a man devoted to his ideals, yet scornful of "professional Liberals," a student of history who is not awed by tradition.
The most unique characteristic of Truman's mind is, perhaps, that to him every man is a personality rather than a figure, whether it be Hannibal, Stalin, Marshall, Pendergast, or the lone Socialist voter in Independence, Missouri. This gives him an unusual view of history, and a useful one. Since he interprets the past with the same vigor and simplicity as the present, he converts history into almost personal experience. His special area of interest in the last few years has, of course, been the presidency. Although not all his opinions and observations are incisive, or even strictly accurate, most of them reveal remarkable insight into the job, the men who have filled it, and problems they have faced.
Mr. President reveals that Truman has a highly developed sense of his own place in history, and that this this supplies him with an effective shield against the barbs of his opponents. "Lincoln, of course, was thoroughly misrepresented and it took fifty years to get at the truth," Truman says. "So I don't let these things bother me for the simple reason I know that I am trying to do the right thing and eventually the facts will come out."
This is the quotation the President keeps on his desk: "Always do right. This will gratify some people, & astonish the rest. Truly yours. Mark Twain." In addition to the Golden Rule, to which he refers constantly, this seems to be the conscious basis of his policy.
Just as he sees history in terms of men and problems, he thinks of the present world situation and his place in it in terms of the people he deals with and the job he has to do. He does not think in slogans. When he says he hopes for peace, but it will take work, he is thinking of real work, not fantasy--of planning, figuring, conferring, and signing papers, not of dreaming and orating.
And when he sums up his administration's achievements, he declares: "We have prevented a third world war. And we have kept American economy on an even keel. The Russians had the idea that after 1946 we would explode and the Russions could have had the world to themselves. We have managed to keep that from happening."
As for the book itself, it has many shortcomings, most of them inherent in the problem it attacks. The material is disconnected, since it consists merely of excerpts. It was winnowed out of countless papers and conversations, and presumably gives a one-sided favorable impression of Truman. Mr. President does not give the inside story on post-war American history, for it does not attempt to--despite the Byrnes and Wallace memos which received such attention in the press when the book came out. There are scores of photographs, many of them good, many of them repetitious, and many of them irrelevant.
But the failings are far outweighed by the success with which Hillman portrays Harry Truman. Mr. President will make wonderful reading for every American, and essential reading for every Democrat.