Reporting on Where the Buck Stops

We had a hearty quorum of 7/9 attending tonight and regrets were received from Ruairi and Brian.
Jim suggested read for August of Where the Buck Stops, Harry S Truman’s autobiographical notes as related to his daughter Margaret was widely well-received. Unfortunately, a few members did not have the opportunity to complete it. Still, after seeing the reception, it may well be one that folks might want to dive into. It was mostly well-received.

Where the Buck Stops was held to be a particularly unique and interesting perspective on the US Presidency (from someone that actually experienced it) and on the character of Truman himself. It was an exhaustive look not only at his own experience but at the presidency and the governance of the US from Washington to Eisenhower. Delivered in a folksy style, it took some time for some members to get into but those that did found it rewarding. Like him or not – and some had changed opinion after the read – the book offered a feel for his unique perspective on both the sweep of American history and the struggles he faced as a Vice-president – cast into the role with little experience, induction or warning. Joe shared that it did feel like you were spending time with the old fella himself.

Truman is presented – to some extent warts and all – as an opinionated, but an active president. He gives his opinion as to what makes a president great, good or abysmal and leaves it to the reader to decide whether they agree with him or not. In this, many found the book rewarding as he provided his evidence, offered it and allows for the reader to decide to accept it or not.

One opinion ventured was that it would have benefited from an epilogue by Margaret Truman to it to present – or at least past her father’s presidency into the time when it was published (as she notes by agreement with her parents to so do following their deaths).
Nonetheless, the prescience of this work was appreciated with all its reflections on the current presidency – very specifically highlighting that presidents take the decisions and leave it for the lawyers to find the legal means to make them happen. Hmmmm.
The book is exhaustive. Despite Margaret’s editing, some readers found it repetitive and a slog at times, but nonetheless illuminating and mainly all reported learning much for old Harry’s recollections.

Harry may have risen in some estimations for his evident curiosity and dedication to exploring and presumably attempting to learn from the careers and actions of his predecessors. At the same time, his opinionated, judgemental style did ruffle a few feathers – and suggested that, whether a good or middling president, he may have been a bit of an ornery cuss. Truman definitely didn’t come across as the humble sort that many might remember him as. He certainly didn’t pull any punches when it came to his successor Eisenhower, and his disdain for military types as presidents is pronounced. Shawn wondered how much of this is veiled in his battles with MacArthur in Korea.

The book is a lengthy read, but a folksy one, full of the vim and vigour of a man that wanted his story known. He was subject to some relatively harsh judgement himself, and this read serves as at least one side of the discussion. It is his potted view of American history and those reading it through found this to be – often surprisingly – revealing, educational and at least a unique perspective on a very unique role.

All in all, the book was very well received and ranks as one of our best reads for the year – thanks go to Jim for his recommendation.

The votes were:
Mike: 6.5 (learned much but admits to it being a slog and hard work at times to keep going)
Shawn 7.0
Jim 8.0 (appreciating the bluntness and outspokenness – it’s a unique and appreciated style)
Declan 6.5 (initial worries about the style fell away and it grew on him)
Brian – 7.0 (shocked by the style as he started reading and worried)
Joe – 7.5 (class stuff – a depth that revealed an individual)
Fergal – NA

For a very impressive 7.08 average score – nearly our top for the year.

We had four suggestions for reads for September in the category of fiction:

Joe: Henrietta McKervey – A Talented Man

Declan: Michael Russel – A City in Darkness

Mike: Joseph Heller – Catch 22

Brain: Enrique Vila-Matas – Dublinesque

And the read is Brian’s recommendation: Dublinesque by Vila-Matas ( thanks Fergal.

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