Presidential Biographies: Dwight D. Eisenhower #34

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Dwight Eisenhower, the thirty-fourth President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith.

Here, I’ll offer my thoughts on those biographies, and proceed to present my official ranking for the DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES!!!!!! The full list of the rankings with all the Presidents as well as comments on their careers, updated as I read through this list, may be found here.

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

I knew very little about Eisenhower as President going in beyond a vague association of his name with highways. I knew he was a general, and I knew a good amount about his work during World War II balancing the various big personalities on the Allies to bring about a formidable fighting force. Little did I know going in to reading about Eisenhower that I would come out the other side with a genuine appreciate for and admiration for a man I now view as among our best Presidents.

Jean Edward Smith’s biography, Eisenhower in War and Peace, is a monumental work that traces the life of Eisenhower from a child through his death. Smith does a superb job balancing each stage of Eisenhower’s life with what seems like the appropriate amount of detail. No period of his life feels glossed over or lost in this great book. My own outline of Eisenhower’s life is going to focus entirely on his Presidency, but the biography itself does true justice to his childhood, early adulthood, and military career as well.

Eisenhower as President pursued peace. He pushed hard to get the United States out of Korea and then presided over a period of 8 years in which no United States soldier lost a life in combat. What makes this even more remarkable is that Eisenhower was repeatedly pushed by international crises to the brink of war, but used his remarkable diplomatic skills to navigate the United States out of war each time. China was one of the countries that Eisenhower stared down, using a combination of public words and things left unsaid to imply that he was unafraid to go to war over a few islands, even as privately he was being urged to drop atomic weapons on Chinese forces. Behind the scenes, he put a hard stop to talk of the use of atomics, while publicly he played coy, causing China to stall and eventually defuse the conflict.

Israel and the Suez canal was another major diplomatic victory for Eisenhower. After numerous setbacks in relationship with Egypt–pulling in and out of arms deals, funding for a dam, etc., Eisenhower backed Egypt when Israel was the aggressor, but did so couched in terms of established American policy so that his domestic image would not suffer. By taking the side of a predominantly Muslim country in the Middle East and backing the pledge of the United States to give succor to the one against whom aggression was directed, Eisenhower increased the international esteem of the United States to an almost unprecedented level.

The Cold War continued to loom during his Presidency, but Eisenhower actively worked to diffuse the tensions. He offered an “Open Skies” policy to the Soviet Union which would allow each nation to fly over the other with spy planes to take pictures to confirm disarmament or at least lower the arms race. The Soviet Union rejected this proposal, but Eisenhower’s efforts at making peace surely helped diffuse at least some of the ramping up of pressure for war.

Domestically, Eisenhower sensed the possibility of a recession and planned in advance, setting up a hugely ambitious infrastructure plan to make the Interstate system connect all cities with populations of over 50,000 people. This project became the larges public works effort in American history, stopped a recession in its tracks, and created infrastructure on which we continue to rely to this day. Not only that, but he tapped people across party lines (Lyndon B. Johnson, in particular) to help orchestrate a Machiavellian effort to stop an amendment that would have hamstrung the President’s and country’s ability to make treaties or even provide aid internationally.

Eisenhower, described by Smith as a progressive conservative, was on the side of moving America towards racial equality. He ordered the military to desegregate to the point of even ignoring one governor’s pleas to allow a Naval base to remain segregated. He utilized his constitutional power to enforce law to send in the 101st Airborne to ensure that judicial orders of integration in Little Rock were carried out. On his authority, the racist mob that attempted to stop the integration was met by 500 US soldiers, bayonets fixed, showing that the executive branch was serious about enforcing the judicial tide that was swinging towards racial equality. Though Eisenhower was not perfect on this issue, his actions were praised by people like Martin Luther King, Jr. and he was recognized as making strides in the right direction.

Eisenhower was perhaps the most diplomatic President we ever had. He knew how to get people to work together for what he saw as the common good, and he was unafraid to use every means he had–whether through his own persuasion or some Machiavellian tactics of setting up different pieces on the board against each other–to get the job done. He was certainly one of the better Presidents in our history. Eisenhower in War and Peace is a fabulous biography on a truly amazing person.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates

Dwight Eisenhower’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

(34th President – Original Ranking #5)- Eisenhower as President got the United States out of Korea and then navigated numerous potentially Earth-shattering conflicts to keep the United States at peace. He was a masterful politician who utilized all the cards in his deck to not only keep the peace abroad but also expand America’s infrastructure with the largest public works project ever–the Interstate System. He utilized the military to enforce desegregation and integration, and remained even-keeled even in the toughest circumstances. He was not a perfect man, but it would be hard to argue he was any but among the best of the Presidents we’ve ever had.


J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


A Crucial Re-Examination of Stan Lee’s Legacy- “True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee” by Abraham Riesman

When I was younger, I never thought I’d be writing about how much I love reading biographies. They were part of that section at the bookstore I never wandered into–all those stuffy history books and books about people! Who cares? Now I have been devouring biographies at an obscene rate and churn through history books as quickly as I can get my hands on them. People change. That’s what makes them so interesting, and that’s why real life is often so fascinating to read about. Stan Lee is certainly best known for his work with Marvel comics, but what went on behind the scenes is of great interest for those wanting to know the “real story” behind the explosion of comic book popularity. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee gives deep insight and raises many questions about who should really be credited for Marvel’s fame and characters.

All of this background is to say I didn’t have much invested here beyond a passing interest in the people involved and the characters around which Stan Lee and the other major players in the biography would revolve. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee struck me like a hurricane. Abraham Riesman is clearly a skilled biographer with both the passion for the subject and strong prose required to make virtually anyone fascinating. And Stan Lee’s life is interesting on its own, for all that a large portion of it revolves around trying to make ends meet at a publishing company that would eventually turn out the now titanic Marvel.

Riesman gives readers background into why Stan Lee’s family ended up in America–fleeing anti-Semitism abroad. Lee’s father wanted his children to be devout Jews, but was ultimately disappointed by Stan. Reading the early life of Stan Lee gives the impression of someone who desperately wanted to make a name for himself and have that name acknowledged and acclaimed. What’s striking is that even in telling stories about how he landed his job in publishing, Stan Lee’s own tale changed. Did he just happen to have a talent for writing acknowledged long ago by newspaper editors (though documentation shows his story about this is a stretch of the truth as well), or was it because he was related to big shots in the publishing company he went to work for? In Lee’s telling[s], it’s all him, all the time. The credit belongs to him, and so does any fame that comes with it. That’s the story again and again throughout Stan Lee’s life.

The documentation Riesman provides is strong. He admits when he is putting forth conjecture or trying to piece together information from multiple, oft-conflicting primary sources. That latter point is worth reflecting on: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee’s long-time artist and compatriot, claimed credit for many of the same things Stan Lee did, whether that was the invention of the Fantastic Four or characters like Thor. Their origin stories of these larger-than-life characters are incompatible. Ultimately, one of them is telling something closer to the truth. Riesman notes the danger for the historian is trying to meet halfway in between and assuming that each has some portion of the truth. That goes beyond what the evidence can show and essentially means the historian or biographer is making their own account of what actually happened. That doesn’t mean something in the middle is untrue. It’s possible that Kirby and Lee collaborated on the idea of Thor, but when Lee claims a special interest in mythology led him to the idea (an interest Riesman points out is undocumented anywhere else) while Kirby’s own acknowledged and documentable interest was alleged to be his own inspiration, it becomes even murkier. Examples like this abound throughout the book and analysis thereof takes up many pages.

Readers interested in this kind of careful analysis of documentation, sources, and trying to piece together the facts of someone’s life will love it. Those looking merely for another work giving Stan Lee unvarnished acclaim will be deeply disappointed. Stan Lee certainly had revolutionary ideas. There seems to be a solidified notion in my mind that his innovation of having all of the Marvel comics inter-connect was a revelation at the time. But who gets credit for individual characters? It seems that, at best, Lee overstates his own genius in this regard throughout his life. Looking at interviews from the 60s vs. the 80s shows a decided change of tone from Lee. Earlier, he’d acknowledged collaboration and even credited others for ideas or writing of comics, while later the story changed to give himself virtually all the credit of any kind. Of course, the notable “Marvel Method” of collaboration on comics–which basically has the writer provide a generalized plot while leaving the innovation of layout of the panels and other big picture notions to the artist–likely helped yield a number of wonderful stories and superheroes also makes it extremely difficult to decide where credit is due.

And why does it matter? Well, certainly there’s a lot of cash on that question, and apparently some extremely large sums of the same were paid out in settlements behind non-disclosure agreements. But beyond that, it matters because there are others like Steve Ditko who deserve more credit for the creation of some of these iconic characters than they get. Hey, it’s all just superheroes, though, right? In a sense, sure, but as Riesman points out–sometimes even through Lee’s own defense of the cultural impact of comics–these characters have had monumental influence on many people’s lives and even on their beliefs. Ultimately, True Believer tells that tale as well: about how stories shape us and mold our perspectives in ways we may not truly expect.

After a lengthy portion of the book is dedicated to the burgeoning years of Marvel’s growth, Riesman sweeps us along Lee’s pursuit of Hollywood, his several failed attempts to market his name, and ultimately to his death. Lee’s later years have their own share of controversy, as people fought over who controlled his legacy and, ultimately, over who controlled Lee himself. Each of these stages of life are as elegantly covered through Riesman’s strong prose as the early Marvel years, though they don’t necessarily feel as intense. It’s like Lee himself put so much effort and energy into those years that it made the rest of his life kind of feel like it was winding down from there. What he’d set in motion–and really, there’s still reason enough to say he helped the Marvel ball roll along–kept going even as his own aspirations floundered and took hits as he missed opportunities or invested in the wrong interests and, sometimes, people. The end of his life is a messy, tragic tale of people deceiving him, trying to deceive the public, and many questions that still need to be asked. Lee died with some of his inner circle mourning him, while others sought to immediately exploit it, and some of his closest, longest friends having long been alienated by his own relentless pursuit of sole credit.

True Believer is a tragic story of a man whose legacy deserves a more objective look. Lee wanted to make a name for himself and craved fame. He got those things–but at what cost? Was alienating all of his friends and even his family worth the gains he had? I don’t think so. It’s a tragic story that lies at the heart of Marvel. It will take decades to sort everything out even more, and I doubt we’ll ever know the facts of who invented which character or where credit lies. Ultimately, Riesman’s biography is important not just as a correction of Lee’s legacy, but also as a key work for touching of future exploration. Fans of speculative fiction, comics, and biographies should all be grabbing True Believer and reading it as soon as they can.

All Amazon Links are Affiliates Links


Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!