Reviews for Ike's Bluff : President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World
Booklist Reviews 2012 September #1
Recent biographies quote Eisenhower as saying, about avoiding WWIII in the 1950s, that it "didn't just happen, by God." Thomas undertakes to unpack Ike's meaning. As the title implies, Eisenhower exuded ambiguity, often in his famously mangled grammar, about whether he would ever unleash nuclear weapons. America's Communist adversaries could not be certain, nor, as Thomas illustrates in his accounts of Cold War hot spots like Korea, Indochina, Formosa, and Berlin, could even his closest advisors, that he would not push the button in a crisis. Arguing that maintaining such uncertainty was intentional, Thomas compares Ike's methods to his passion for playing poker and bridge, which involve deception and anticipation of opponents' moves. The strain of the pretense--that is, Thomas is not convinced Eisenhower ever would have used the atom bomb--seemed to aggravate his explosive temper, visible in many anecdotes Thomas lifts from diaries by Ike's doctor and secretary. Generally approving of Eisenhower's ways of warding off the apocalypse, Thomas' study boosts the upward trend of Eisenhower's reputation in recent scholarship. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.
BookPage Reviews 2012 October
Keeping the dogs of war at bay
In 1952, with the Cold War beginning and a hot war raging in Korea, American voters sought a leader whose foreign policy could bring peace and security. Toward that end, they elected war hero Dwight Eisenhower as their president. With an escalating nuclear arms race, Ike found he was the first person in history with the power to destroy the world. As Evan Thomas demonstrates in his riveting Ike’s Bluff, the new president’s single most important preoccupation was avoiding war. How he did it, with subtlety and a pragmatic approach, is the focus of the book.
At the heart of Eisenhower’s strategy on nuclear weapons was confidentiality—he was the only person who knew whether he would drop the bomb. His ability to convince the enemies of the U.S. as well as his own supporters that he would use nuclear weapons was, Thomas writes, “a bluff of epic proportions.” To do this required extraordinary patience and self-discipline.
As Thomas points out, “Eisenhower’s critical insight was that nuclear warfare had made war itself the enemy.”
Thomas shows that Eisenhower’s approach to nuclear weapons would have worked only for him, a highly respected and popular military hero. As Thomas writes, “Ike was more comfortable as a soldier, yet his greatest victories were the wars he did not fight.” Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2012 July #2
The beatification of President Dwight Eisenhower continues in this keen character study. Often viewed as trustworthy but bland, Eisenhower didn't let on what was really roiling behind the comforting exterior, as Thomas (Writing/Princeton Univ.; The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898, 2010, etc.) effectively argues in this chronological look at his presidency. In fact, atomic war loomed: The hydrogen bomb was being routinely tested to the obliteration of Pacific atolls, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff were itching to provoke the Soviet Union and hot spots in Korea, China, Suez and Berlin were offering an opportunity. If anyone knew the devastation of war, Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower certainly did. While he avoided initial calls to jump into the presidential fray, he was convinced that only he could keep the country secure and at peace; he assumed the duty personally, and the physical burden ruined his health. Thomas emphasizes Ike's mastery at bridge, not because he had consistently good hands but because he could bluff. As he had learned through his World War II strategic command, he promoted an all-or-nothing approach to crises, standing cautious yet willing to throw everything in if required for victory. Tellingly, he moved the stockpiling of atomic weapons from the civilian Atomic Energy Commission to the military, and he did not concern himself with alleviating public hysteria over the threat of atomic warfare. Yet from crisis to crisis, he maintained a "healthy skepticism about the grandiose schemes of the military," leading him to close his presidency with his haunting warning about the "military industrial complex." Thomas ably demonstrates how operating through indirection became Ike's effective peacekeeping strategy. An astute, thoroughly engaging portrayal. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 April #2
Apparently a crack poker player, Eisenhower took a big, poker-faced gamble when as President he confronted the Soviet Union, China, and his own saber-rattling generals. Former Newsweek editor at large Thomas explains how his careful strategy paid off--for him and for the world. [Page 62]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #1
President Eisenhower has enjoyed sustained attention in the past few years (e.g., in Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower in War and Peace, among others). Now Thomas (journalism, Princeton Univ.; The War Lovers) has produced yet another valuable examination of Eisenhower as a crafty politician who navigated the treacherous waters of the early Cold War period with guile and cleverness, using the same competitive skills he displayed in his bridge and poker games to keep the peace with America's intransigent foes. Thomas's narrative is filled with insights, and his sources--both primary and secondary--are impressive. He depicts Eisenhower as a leader who had seen up close the destruction of war and who was committed to keeping the world from descending into another world war. He was distrustful of what he famously termed the military-industrial complex and labored to keep that burgeoning relationship in check. His youthful successor learned the hard way what Eisenhower intuitively knew: that if the United States enters a conflict, it needs to make sure it can win, a hard truth Americans have had to learn more than once since Eisenhower left office. VERDICT An important and well-written book; a valuable addition to any U.S. history or political science collection. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12.]--Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 July #2
Often derided as an inattentive national grandfather, Eisenhower emerges as a subtle, sharp-witted master statesman in this probing study of his foreign and security policies. Historian Thomas (The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898) paints a colorful, richly detailed portrait of a man whose habit of hiding his cutting intellect, volcanic temper, and poker-player's instincts behind public grins and vague pronouncements amounted to a profound political strategy. Eisenhower's low-key nuclear brinkmanship anchors the book. Thomas argues that Ike's deliberately ambiguous statements about using nuclear weapons caused the Soviets and Chinese to back off. His duplicity and indirection prevailed in everything from the Suez Crisis to his battle against bloated defense budgets. The result, Thomas contends, was an audacious geopolitical gamble: while dreading the destructiveness of nuclear weapons, Ike embraced a doctrine of massive retaliation that put nuclear war at the heart of American strategy--and then adroitly used it to defuse military confrontations. Thomas's appreciation of Eisenhower is sometimes too sunny; he says little about Ike's approval of CIA-sponsored coups in Iran and Guatemala and the troubled interventionist path they charted. Still, his vivid, compelling profile of Eisenhower--the man and the shrewd operator--should spark reconsideration of his presidency. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Sept. 25) [Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC