Truman Revisited | September 1, 2013

Klara, Robert. The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2013. 368p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781250000279. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022936. HIST

Did you know that almost none of the original interior structure of the White House still exists? Klara (FDR’s Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance) provides a fascinating chronicle of how this famous landmark, found to be on the verge of structural collapse during Harry Truman’s presidency, was gutted and rebuilt from the inside out. His absorbing narrative details every aspect of the renovation, including the conflicts, political gamesmanship, and compromises that occurred among the executive branch, Congress, and various public and private entities involved in this momentous commission. Throughout, Klara cleverly shows how world events, such as an attempted presidential assassination and the impending Cold War arms race, affected the design and outcome of the project. VERDICT While Margaret Truman’s The President’s House: 1800 to the Present; The Secrets and History of the World’s Most Famous Home is full of historical anecdotes relating to the White House, some of which are about the rebuilding that she experienced firsthand as the president’s daughter, Klara’s focused history will intrigue architectural history enthusiasts along with presidential history buffs and others who will appreciate a part of White House history that has been forgotten by many. [See Prepub Alert, 4/22/13.]—Mary Jennings, Camano Island Lib., WA

Shogan, Robert. Harry Truman and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Univ. Pr. of Kansas. 2013. 248p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780700619115. $34.95. HIST

Shogan (former national political correspondent, Los Angeles Times; The Battle of Blair Mountain) offers a vivid account of Harry Truman’s rise from a machine politician in Missouri, with Southern roots and slave-owning grandparents, to a man with evolved views on civil rights. After engagingly tracing Truman’s early family history and his place in FDR’s final administration in the context of U.S. race relations in the 1940s, Shogan focuses on Truman’s presidency. With World War II over, black soldiers returned home to face an American society that in many places and circumstances had not changed from earlier Jim Crow days. Shogan illuminates the racial challenges facing the country after the war, asking key questions in the process. While there’s no doubt that Truman was involved in transformational changes, including the integration of the armed forces and the civil service, was he truly committed to civil rights for black Americans? Was he guided strictly by political calculations? VERDICT An important book that should be read by anyone interested in postwar U.S. history and the ongoing search for racial justice or presidential or civil rights histories.—Amy Lewontin, Northeastern Univ. Lib., Boston