The 34th President of the United States and former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II takes readers on a journey through his life from boyhood to just before moving into the White House. From his childhood and family history to meeting and marrying his wife, Mamie, and having his own family; from amusing anecdotes of his mischievous cadet years at West Point to rising to the highest office in the Army; from the hallowed halls of education at Columbia University to the formation of NATO, Dwight D. Eisenhower lived a full and interesting life which he details in this personal narrative.
I believe I read a short biography of Dwight Eisenhower when I was a kid, but my memories of it are pretty fuzzy, and beyond that, I can't say that I knew a great deal about our 34th president. Reading this book certainly helped add to my knowledge, and I really liked getting a first-hand account. To my recollection, the most famous Eisenhower campaign slogan was, "I like Ike," and after reading At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends, I am prepared to echo that sentiment. Mr. Eisenhower came across as a very down-to-earth, congenial and genuinely likable guy. As the title might suggest, the book is written in a very conversational style which felt like sitting down with an old friend who was relating various stories from his life. I most enjoyed the tales about his childhood, family history, and time at West Point, as well as some of the things he did after World War II.
Not surprisingly, the largest part of the narrative was about Mr. Eisenhower's military service, which was still interesting, but in general, military stuff isn't my favorite thing to read about, not to mention, a big swath of his time in the Army was spent in administration and overseeing of training exercises which isn't terribly exciting. It seemed like every time he requested a more interesting position, the powers-that-be turned him down, until he finally received command of the American forces in Europe during World War II. These parts were still as well written as the rest of the book, and would probably be of great interest to those who like military history. There were some intriguing tidbits about the famous American Generals MacArthur, Pershing, Marshall, Patton, and Bradley, but overall, my main interests simply lie elsewhere. The one thing about these parts though that really struck me was the harsh reality of long separations for couples/families who are in the armed forces. I really admire Mamie (and all military wives) for her patience in being apart from her husband for such lengthy periods of time and the frequent moves. It took well over 35 years of marriage before she even had a house she could truly call her own (now that's patient ;-)).
There were some laugh-out-loud funny anecdotes about a couple of incidents of mischievous behavior at West Point which earned Mr. Eisenhower disciplinary action. In fact, he seemed to be pretty contrary overall, ending up with lots of demerits. I enjoyed the fun tales of his boyhood, and was interested to discover that he was a lover of history from an early age just like myself. His romance with Mamie and the relating of how his family shaped his life were touching. I was also amused to find out that Mr. Eisenhower was a consummate gambler who would bet on just about anything and rarely lost. I liked that he didn't push his son to follow his footsteps into the military, but instead talked to him about the advantages of both military and civilian careers and then let him make his own decision. I was most impressed though that Mr. Eisenhower didn't seem to be influenced by money or promotions. He simply tried to enjoy life as it was handed to him and do the right thing. He didn't even really seem to want to run for President, but after several years, was persuaded into it by persistent friends. I was also interested to learn that Mr. Eisenhower was the president of Columbia University, and played a major role in the formation of NATO. The book stops right before his presidency though, so there isn't really any details of his time in the White House. This condensed version found in the Reader's Digest Condensed Books - Vol. III, 1967 anthology appears to be less than half the size of the original tome, but in my opinion, the editing wasn't as glaring as it was in the first story of this anthology. I'm not sure if I would seek out the full-length version of At Ease because of the large amount of narrative on military life, but overall, this abridged version was enjoyable and has definitely stirred my interest in finding out more about Dwight D. Eisenhower.
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