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Mr. Truman’s War: The Final Victories of World War II and the Birth of the Post War World, by J. Robert Moskin, Random House, New York, 1996, $30.

Many students of history have wondered how Harry S. Truman was able to step into the presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt and do such a creditable job of leading the country (and what later became known as the Free World) during the closing months of World War II. Although not a newcomer to the halls of government, Truman had been picked as FDR’s running mate for political reasons, and he was in no way a confidante of the president, particularly with respect to FDR’s personal meetings with Churchill and Stalin. Yet the man from Missouri stepped in firmly and with a sure sense of direction that helped guide the United States through the tumultuous events of 1945 and reshaped the world order, for good and for ill, for the next 45 years.

Moskin tells the story of those fascinating events from Truman’s perspective from the time he was sworn in as president of the United States on April 12, 1945, through the formal surrender of Japan aboard the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945. Virtually every day of Truman’s time during that period is accounted for, and special attention is given to meetings with foreign leaders.

The book presents an excellent panorama of the vast array of problems that the new president had to confront with little or no preparation. There are references to some domestic problems and issues, but the main coverage of the narrative deals with the conclusion of the war and Truman’s efforts to win a peace that was consistent with the reasons the war had been fought in the first place.

Mr. Truman’s War provides useful and interesting insights into why and how events unfolded as they did all over the world–in the Middle East, Indochina, Korea, China, Europe–from mid-1945 to the present day. It is a remarkable story of a onetime dirt farmer from Missouri–a man from another century who had a tremendous impact on the modern world.

John I. Witmer