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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World

Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World - Evan Thomas

I found this book to be completely fascinating as it touched on themes at the nexus of US history, behavioral economics, psychology, decision making, the role of science in policy and, well, a lot of other stuff in which I maintain an avid interest. Ike's Bluff is certainly not a general biography of Eisenhower. It's really an examination of its titular thesis about Eisenhower's foreign policy/military decisions in his role as one of the first Commanders in Chief of the nuclear age. This thesis (and really, this isn't a spoiler) is pretty much as follows:

His [Einsenhower's] ability to save the world from nuclear Armageddon entirely depended on his ability to convince America’s enemies—and his own followers—that he was willing to use nuclear weapons. This was a bluff of epic proportions.

Outside of this reading, I don't really know enough about Eisenhower and his era to comment as to whether the author was overly biased in his portrait- though I'd hazard a guess that Evan Thomas is a pretty big fan of Ike's. I'd also be willing to bet that not every one of Eisenhower's public faux pas was a strategic attempt to be underestimated by those around him, and even Thomas is willing to admit that Ike probably gave too much free reign to the CIA. However, Eisenhower did seem to possess a keen understanding of the nature of war (violence begets more violence), and of human and institutional irrationality.

I definitely came away from this liking Eisenhower. Heck, his list list of dislikes is pretty much dead on as far as I'm concerned:

...he disliked visits by Republican ladies wearing corsages; also “abstract” paintings, “women who cry,” “people who are afraid of him,” “people who gush,” and being physically touched by almost anyone.

Eisenhower seemed uniquely freed from what seems to be a presidential obsession with public opinion, likely due to his experience and indoctrination in military leadership.

Eisenhower knew that he could, in the short term, calm the public’s fears by taking the easy way out. Patience and privacy were virtues of leadership, vices of politics. There was no choice for Ike: he was the lonely keeper of the nation’s secrets.


Public terror was a price—politically as well as psychologically—well below Armageddon.

I'm looking forward to perusing many of the works in Thomas' bibliography, so I suppose the jury is still out on the greatness of this book vis-à-vis historical accuracy. But, in the meantime, I can certainly recommend it as a great thought piece on leadership in early Cold War America.


Eisenhower Iotacon by Andy Rash