Wednesday, October 7, 2009

American Caesar

This morning I completed the latest book in my morning reading program, American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880 - 1964 by William Manchester. Wow, what a read! This is a long biography, coming in at over 700 pages (not counting the lengthy bibliography and source material references). I bought this book back at the beginning of the year when I was on a trip to San Diego for work. I always pick up a book of some kind, usually nonfiction to help build my library and usually, I take years to get around to reading it. But this one seemed to fit my needs when I was ready and so I was very happy to tackle it.

This is, I believe, the best historical biography I have ever read...and I've read some great ones. Part of that may be due to the subject at hand, Douglas MacArthur, one of the more complicated personalities of history out there. A brilliant man, but flawed in several respects, he was such a major figure of American history and, indeed, world history. He was at once, a genius, a great leader of men, a supreme strategist, as well as an incredible egoist capable of monumental mistakes in judgement. I have heard numerous anecdotes throughout my life about this man but had never developed a complete picture of him or his life. William Manchester certainly satisfied that for me.

The book itself is delightful to read, packed not only with the facts of MacArthur's life and times, but also making a compelling case for MacArthur being one of history's greatest generals. We get a close-up look at his development of brilliant warfare strategies and how they came about. We see his tactics in war and we see how he reacts to his superiors and subordinates. We see his entire life, starting, actually before his birth with a good look at his father, a great general in his own right and we progress through his childhood and then his amazing career at West Point. We see his success in WWI and then spend a lot of time with him in the Pacific during WWII, and his ultimate shining moments as the near-emporer of Japan after the surrender. MacArthur seems to be mostly remembered for his time in the Korean War and his ultimate firing by Truman and that is truly unfortunate given his numerous remarkable accomplishments for so many decades prior.

But this book is far more than historical facts. The author gets behind the public personna and shows us the man himself. While reading the book, I felt like I knew MacArthur personally and was able to understand how and why he reacted to the great and tragic events of the 20th century. The book's title says it all...MacArthur was, indeed, the American Caesar. The author does a superb job of showing us all aspects of his character, making the reading of this book a truly great experience.

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