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04 September 2013

Book Review: Ike and Dick

Ike and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political MarriageIke and Dick: Portrait of a Strange Political Marriage by Jeffrey Frank
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think this book should have a different title; perhaps something like

"Dick! (with a sprinkling of Ike)"

But the imbalance doesn't even bother me in light of my other concerns about this dual biography.

Though I know very little about these two men, I don't feel all that enlightened after reading this book.  Frank seems to be balancing on a line between too much and too little information and, for me, he never quite got it right.  He assumed I knew things I didn't.  He barely mentioned things I wanted to know more about.  He repeated things I didn't really care about.  And, worst of all, for me, he put words and thoughts into both of these historical figures mouths.

This is Frank's description of Nixon while Eisenhower was lying in state: "Nixon's military aide, Don Hughes, was sitting close to the president and saw that as he left the Rotunda he broke down again.  It is hard, though, to imagine those were tears of grief.  They are better explained by Nixon's continuing sadness at never having been admitted to the general's small, rarely expanded circle, the one that he reserved for friends."

How the hell do you know that, Mr. Frank?  Why would you presume to assume something and then declare it as fact?  Did you make an executive decision based on your research?  If so, why not tell me why you think that?

The book is filled with moments such as this, weakening an already weak history.

Frank makes Eisenhower into a passive-aggressive flip-flopper who is so eminently unlikeable that you wonder why Nixon continued to work so hard to seek his approval.  Nixon is gruff and too driven and seems to lose his mind before he's elected president (one of those things I found worthy of more exploration but which Frank glosses over, like most other interesting story lines).

I came away from this book completely disinterested in the both of them.  Which is unfortunate.  Because I still think that, handled better, these two men, and their era, could be fascinating.

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