Saturday, December 02, 2006

American Caesar

By William Manchester.

A biography of Douglas MacArthur.

This was a fairly interesting read, but at times it got bogged down in excessive detail, quoting various opposing letters and interviews from actors in the MacArthur saga. The author makes a big production of excusing MacArthur for many of his mistakes by saying that other parties were equally responsible. His prose descriptions of maps leave something to be desired; it would be nice if the maps were featured more prominently for easier reference.

I also have doubts about the veracity of his account. There are numerous references to other sources, but various people on the Internet seem to think Manchester is not an accurate biographer, tending to glorify his subjects, and some of the things attributed to MacArthur (constantly on the front lines risking snipers, for example, and never getting hit) seem after a while to be somewhat excessive and perhaps unlikely.

It's also not always clear what is happening at a given point. The author makes frequent forward references to events in the future and it's somewhat hard to keep track of them, especially when he refers to things an educated reader may have been assumed to know (this book is dated 1978), but I didn't. It may be helpful to have some familiarity with MacArthur's life and the twentieth century in the United States beforehand.

I only found it to be a compelling read at a few spots, so it was pretty hard to get through. That and my doubts about the book's accuracy make me uncertain about how useful it was to read. It did suggest interesting questions, making me wonder, for example, what the Chinese and Soviets thought about the U.S. during the latter time period covered. However, in itself, I suspect another book (not yet found, at least by me) could have presented the desired information in a more palatable manner.

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