William Manchester – American Caesar

William Manchester – American Caesar, Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964 (1978)

When World War II caught him poorly prepared in Manila, MacArthur had spent a lifetime shaping the character that would be in the world’s spotlight and change the lives of millions over the following decade. He’d been wandering stupid-bravely into battlefields since World War I, seemingly daring the universe to kill him, and, seeing that this didn’t happen, seems to have concluded that he was invulnerable, held in store by fate for a historic mission. Which wasn’t far from the truth. Manchester paints him as an egotist with little skill at the political game he dearly wanted to play, whose many flaws were made up for by two strokes of brilliance: Retaking Southeast Asia, (and, temporarily, Korea), with minimal loss of life, and turning Japan into one of America’s closest friends, (or at least not preventing this from happening). Caesar is a good comparison, but you might just as well call him an American de Gaulle, and if, like de Gaulle, he had become president, as he wanted to, the result would no doubt have been equally .. interesting.

Recommended: Strongly. Another book that makes the case for biography as the superior form of history.