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Summary

From master storyteller and historian H. W. Brands, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, comes the riveting story of how President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur squared off to decide America's future in the aftermath of World War II.

At the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and UN forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way.

Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. Heir to a struggling economy, a ruined Europe, and increasing tension with the Soviet Union, on no issue was the path ahead clear and easy. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The lessons he drew from World War II were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster, and a showdown with the Communists was inevitable - the sooner the better. In the nuclear era, when the Soviets, too, had the bomb, the specter of a catastrophic third world war lurked menacingly close on the horizon.

The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. From the drama of Stalin's blockade of West Berlin to the daring landing of MacArthur's forces at Inchon to the shocking entrance of China into the war, The General vs. the President vividly evokes the making of a new American era.

©2016 H. W. Brands (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

"Scott Brick's narration shines as he delivers Brands's detailed account of the ultimate battle for military control between a struggling President Truman and a rogue General MacArthur.... Thanks to the talents of narrator and author, a broad audience will find this a riveting listen that goes beyond the simple historical facts to reveal the real men who, for a brief time, controlled the fate of the world." ( AudioFile)

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Thoroughly gripping

I enjoyed this from the moment I began listening to the preface. Anyone with interest in 20th century history will enjoy hearing about the relationship between Truman and MacArthur. Many will know something of Truman but MacArthur was a surprise. What a character. Overall a great book!

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Excellent - Had Me Hooked In Five Minutes

Would you listen to The General vs. the President again? Why?

This is an excellent combination of factual history and the more personal, subjective outlooks of the two protagonists.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The General vs. the President?

The chapter covering Truman's 1948 election win was very well done.

What does Scott Brick bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Scott Brick is always reliable and gets the nuances of a text just right. I wish more narrators were as good.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

No, just maintained my interest very well and made me regret when it ended.

Any additional comments?

I shall sample Mr. Brands' other work on this basis.

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A masterpiece of compelling listening

I found this audio book totally absorbing. As much a page turner as any Clancy-type thriller.
Very well written and brilliantly narrated.

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  • Jean
  • 11-11-16

A Vivid Dramatic Accounting

This is a great comparison study. Professor Brands is a master storyteller. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.

After World War II MacArthur was extremely popular. The lessons he learned from WWII were absolute: appeasement leads to disaster, and a showdown with the communists was inevitable and as far as Douglas MacArthur was concerned the sooner the better. At the time, Truman was an unpopular president. Truman faced a struggling economy, a ruined Europe and increasing hostilities with the Soviet Union. Senator Joseph McCarthy was in full swing and he had a hostile divided Congress. Also, Truman had to deal with Stalin’s blockade of West Berlin with the airlift of food. Then the Korean War began.

Brands reveals the contest of wills between these two strong characters against the backdrop of the Korean peacekeeping action, the drama with Stalin and the entrance of China into the Korean conflict triggered by MacArthur. The critical conflict between the two was the civilian rule over the military, which MacArthur defied.

This is a well written and meticulously researched comparison study of two of American leaders during the Korean War. Truman thought MacArthur was egotistical, reckless, lacked foresight and was willing to use nuclear weapons. MacArthur thought Truman was like all politicians, spineless, afraid and corrupt. Brands reveals both the strong and weak points of each man. MacArthur did wonders in Japan, but was extremely naïve about global geopolitics; and Truman did wonders in Europe, but was in over his head and made some mistakes. The book has some flaws. I noted some inaccurate statements; for example, Brands states that Truman and Treasury Secretary John Snyder, whom he consulted on MacArthur’s firing, “had served together in WWI”. They actually met at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1928. I enjoyed the Senate hearings of the Army particularly that of General Marshall. The book reads like a novel, is easy to read but has lots of critical detail.

Scott Brick does an excellent job narrating the book. Brick is an actor, writer and award winning audiobook narrator.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Rosemary
  • 22-10-16

Superb history, well read

This book is a winner. A visit to a forgotten time whose lessons we should heed now. So well organized, edited and spoken!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • robert
  • 04-11-16

Well written and balanced

One not only learns about the 2 protagonists but also the military and
Political environment in which they operated



2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Raymond Chase
  • 20-03-17

Terrific!

This book had me captivated throughout the entirety of duration. This was an excellent expose on General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry. Truman. I strongly recommend this book!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • A. Demas
  • 25-06-18

Struggle for power

I enjoyed the book. At one point I set it aside but when I returned to it I will finished it. I did not know much about this time in history so it was eye opening.

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  • Seth Valmont
  • 30-04-18

Excellent

A great book about the rapidly changing dynamics of the American political system and military command before during and after WW2

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  • John
  • 20-04-18

Very Good Account of What Happened in Korea

This book is a very detailed account of the story of how President Truman ultimately decided to fire Douglas MacArthur, one of the country's true heroes from World War II.

The story is well told and seems to be well sourced. It is very detailed. It tells both sides of the story, essentially in alternating chapters, at least until the end.

In retrospect it seems almost unavoidable that Truman--a plain spoken, unlettered, but highly intelligent student of world history (and a purely accidental President)--would be underestimated by the imperious MacArthur. In this respect, the book is a very interesting character study.

MacArthur accomplished many great things in his life: He was a soldier of unusual bravery. He accomplished a great deal in both world wars. His administration of Japan after the war set the stage for making Japan into a modern democracy and an ally.

He was a decisive and strategic military thinker--certainly one of the best. Who knows, maybe if we had followed his aggressive approach in Korea we would not still have the peninsula divided (and we might not have communist China). But there is no doubt that his approach was risky business, and there is also no doubt that MacArthur was dead wrong in advising Truman that red China would not come into Korea after MacArthur's astonishing operation at Inchon.

Truman, the State Department, and the Joint Chiefs all preferred a more conservative approach because they were afraid of starting World War III. Scholars can debate whether this was the correct approach, but one thing we do know is that it avoided a general war. That said, it also left a lot of unfinished business.

At the end of the day, MacArthur could only see it his way, and he actively tried to undermine Truman and others. Truman was the Commander in Chief, and really had no other choice.

If you want to learn the details, the book is very worthwhile.

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  • Sean
  • 28-01-18

Reveals the complexity of two historic figures

The author made me rethink prejudices I had about both men. My opinion of MacArthur has always been colored by his treatment of the WWI vets who were peacefully protesting for relief from the Great Depression—the so-called “Bonus Army”.

In a similar way, I’ve always been uncomfortable with Truman’s use of Atomic Weapons against Japan. I thought both actions devalued human life in a fundamental way.

While the book doesn’t go into detail about either of these incidents, it paints a picture of two men who are too complex to be dismissed with history’s ‘bad actors’. I really appreciated the perspective and recommend this to anyone interested in history.

Also, Scott Brick—the narrator—perfectly captures the tension and gravity of this era. He’s a perfect match to this material, and I recommend checking out his other work on audible.

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  • Ridhaa Ahmed
  • 27-01-18

Magnificent detail

I though that this book was very well written in terms of the detail that it was able to include in an entertaining way. Well narrated but even better researched.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-01-18

Enjoyable for the details loving listeners

Excellent performance with sufficiently good rythme to keep the listener hooked trough the lengthy book. The constant switch between McArthur and Truman viewpoints is key. It both shows the complexity of the Korean war, between local conflict and worldwide politics, and provides for a pleasant listening experience.