Brief reviews of recent releases: "Eisenhower in War and Peace,” by Jean Edward Smith, and "Good Prose," by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd.
Eisenhower in War and Peace
By Jean Edward Smith (Random House, 950 pages, $20 paperback)
Dwight Eisenhower is often remembered as the calmly determined general of World War II and the comforting father-figure president of the 1950s. Author Jean Edward Smith’s compelling one-volume biography of Eisenhower, out this year in paperback, offers a highly readable glimpse into the complex character of this American leader.
Smith, who has written biographies of two other presidents, deeply penetrates the Eisenhower enigma. Despite his warm smile, Eisenhower could be cold and calculating. And his greatest political skill was letting adversaries underestimate him. Smith convincingly shows that this great man had failings, including a wartime love affair that was covered up for years.
Yet Eisenhower also learned from his failures, and this excellent biography ultimately tells us more about leadership than any seven-step management guide ever written.
David Shaffer, reporter
Good Prose: The art of nonfiction
By Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd (Random House, 195 pages, $16)
Last spring, I had the good fortune to hear writer Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor, Richard Todd, speak at a conference about their long professional relationship. That conversation, so satisfying and inspiring, sprang from the book they wrote together, “Good Prose,” now out in paperback. It’s part memoir, part writing advice, and a wholly wonderful read.
The two met 40 years ago, when Kidder was peddling his journalism with an eye to being the next Truman Capote and Todd was an editor at the Atlantic. They learned to trust each other while working on a piece about a murder. “Kidder would give him pieces of unfinished drafts,” they wrote. “When a draft was done, Todd would point out ‘some problems’ and another rewrite would begin.”
This warm book uses anecdotes from their experiences to illustrate sensible and useful advice about how narratives can be structured, how accurate memoir must be, how essays should be crafted, how one’s work can be marketed.
In addition to all of that, the book is a wonderful reminder of how much hard work goes into good writing, and how every writer needs an editor, and how every editor craves to work with a brilliant writer. Kidder and Todd were lucky to find each other those 40 years ago, and we are lucky, too.
Tracy Kidder will speak at Minnesota State University, Mankato at 3 p.m. Thu., followed by a 7:30 p.m. reading, as part of the Good Thunder Reading Series.
LAURIE HERTZEL, senior editor/books