It’s almost embarrassing. I bought this book more nine years ago with every intention of reading it. It’s a very long book. Modern American history is not my favorite subject, but I feel compelled to read it anyway. At 1102 pages (paperback edition), it could not be a quick read. Given its content, no skimming, either. Even listening rather than reading, it was going to require my full attention. So I procrastinated until about a week ago when I started reading it.

Having just finished “No Ordinary Time: The Home Front in World War II” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “Truman” seemed the logical next step.

I have always been fascinated by medieval history and shied away from modern U.S. history. This is probably because modern history hits too close to home and lately, is even more painful. Eighty years ago, we could see this future coming and we did nothing to avert it.

This book was written long before Trump proved Americans were far more stupid than we imagined possible, before COVID-19 proved us incapable of defending ourselves and loved ones from death and disease, and before climate change became so obvious that only the most mentally inept idiots are still capable of denying it. Since these same morons still believe Trump won the last election — and a few believe the world is flat. Thus we have a solid understanding of how willing people are to live their lives in full denial of obvious facts. It’s mind-blowing.

I wonder if they will wake up before we are living on a planet unable to sustain us.

Keep working on a plan. Make no little plans. Make the biggest one you can think of, and spend the rest of your life carrying it out.


I just finished the book and if nothing else, I finally have a grip on the Korean “police action.” Considering what a disaster that war was, it’s hard to believe that less than a decade later, America was back in Vietnam. Talk about a political case of “rinse and repeat.” The two wars (excuse me, police actions) were shockingly similar. The terrain was the same. The problems with China and Russia were the same. And the disaster was the same, as was the outcome. Which is to say, a divided country and a non-peace.

Despite his missteps, you have to admire Harry S. Truman. He believed in people. He believed in us. He believed commonsense would push all of us to do the right thing because he believed doing the right thing was what we all really wanted. He was an honest man, caught in a job where honesty is ill-rewarded. He worked hard, did his best and many of his proposals were as forward thinking as anything we can see on today’s political horizon. Better, actually.

Unfortunately, he was wrong about people. I think eventually he realized his values — his real, unpretentious values — were not universal. They weren’t even common. It took him a long time to come to that realization. Even after he had been betrayed and battered, he still stood up and defended the people who he believed had stood by him.

Reading modern American history is not turning out to be enlightening. It’s closer to the opposite. Seventy years plus later, we are still fighting identical battles. Still trying to make “civil rights” work. Still trying to get a livable minimum wage. Still trying to keep the GOP from chopping down social security — and still trying to get universal medical care.

Back then, the New Dealers and those (like Harry Truman) genuinely thought we’d want to care for each other. That we’d want to built a robust economy that would support the nation. That we would obviously support universal health care. Wasn’t that what everybody wanted then and now? And yet — here we are.

The 80th Congress of Harry S. Truman could be today’s congress. If you want to believe in rebirth, I think we’ve got them in our congress. Only the names have changed.

My fundamental belief is that commonsense is not common and rarely sensible. Nothing I have read has contradicted this belief.

Marilyn Armstrong (not Harry Truman)

I always thought right and wrong and doing the right thing (because it is right) were essential human standards. Sort of like moral DNA. That we were essentially born with those fundamental truths baked into our makeup. I was wrong.

It seems that the only time we come together is to fight wars. In fact war seems to be the only time when we do come together. If we didn’t have wars, we’d probably never see “the better side” of human nature. It forms a dismal picture of us. Despite this, I still hope in this darkness, somewhere there is a bright spot and a light that can illuminate the world.

We all live in hope. That one’s mine.

Categories: American history, Audiobook, Book Review, History, manners & civility

Tags: , , , , ,

21 replies

  1. Sounds like one I’d like to read. Thanks for sharing you insights, Marilyn.


  2. I enjoy them too especially if the narrator is good. Sometimes they are a bit too restful though and I fall asleep and have to backtrack.


  3. Unfortunately not all Americans want to be united toward a common good. A painful new truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maybe I misunderstood, but I read that Harry Truman was somewhat of a racist in his own mind, but tried his best to do the right thing regarding all citizens of the US?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Ben. I think both of us were just coming of age during Truman’s era. I think the integration of the U.S. Armed forces was a big one in our neighborhood.

      There were still vestiges of racism (duh!) when I enlisted in the USMC in ’59. But I was told things had improved because of Truman. I hold my cards on that one.


    • He was in speech but he didn’t believe in it. Many people thought it was more like bad habits than bad thoughts. I’m not sure how I feel about it. He worked very hard to get as much racism as he could banned. He was hated by all the congress people from the south. He couldn’t get a bill through congress, so he did what he could without congress.

      It’s hard to judge. He definitely had the speech patterns of a southerner, but he didn’t have the attitudes that normally go with it. It’s a hard judgment call, but I think considering that he really worked at making the world better, he almost succeeded.


  5. sounds like a very interesting read, Marilyn! Did you read it in paperback or in audio?


    • Audio. I would never have survived 1100 pages of text. My eyes would have fallen out of my head. Garry listened to it too. It is also the history of our century, from horse & buggy to landing on the moon.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I really enjoyed the sections I heard. I remember parts of the Truman administration as a young fella — first connection with the news — radio and newspapers. I recall some of Truman’s addresses. Folksy but firm. I also remember Truman and his daughter, teaming up for “The Missouri Waltz” on early TV variety shows.


  6. Common sense not common, rarely sensible …..+1!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you very much for the review, Marilyn! I am sure a wonderful read, and honestly i now have heard about, the very first time. Have a beautiful rest of the weekend! xx Michael


    • It’s a really good book. There’s actually an abridged version of it available on Audible, but the details are what make it so special. I never really understood why one would read “abridged” history. Isn’t that what they teach us in school?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I recall some of those abridged classics we skated through in school. No, no abridged versions of “Ulysses”. No.


      • I fully agree. You cant get the full information, with reading only abridged books/ stories. Hey, thank you for the tip with audible, Marilyn. I have to test out my listening skills.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I adore audiobooks. I got addicted to them when I had a very VERY long commute to work — like more than 100 miles one way. If it hadn’t been for audiobooks, I’d quite probably have lost my mind. After I retired, I realized I was still hooked on them. One of the reasons I love them is that you hear the story at “human” speed. I read very fast — which means I skim. Not on purpose, but I can’t help it. When I listen, I hear the whole story and a good narrator? It’s like having a movie in your head, except you get to be the casting director. A good audiobook is wonderful. A bad one, not so much — but at least lets you return books you don’t like — and you don’t need a reason. If you don’t like the book, the narrator, or for that matter, the writing, you return it. I HIGHLY recommend them.

          AND it gives you eyes a rest.

          Liked by 1 person

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