Understanding Harry Truman Through David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Biography

Presidential biographies are often a great source of information for understanding the character and accomplishments of the presidents who have shaped our country. David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Truman, serves as a particularly informative and in-depth look into the life and legacy of President Harry Truman.

This book is an important resource for learning about Truman and provides insight into his optimism, diligence, perseverance, political talents, and acumen. Let’s dive deeper into the book and explore what makes it so special.

Truman by David McCullough (1993-06-14)
  • David McCullough (Author)
  • Simon & Schuster (Publisher)

The Size and Scope of “Truman”

This 936-page work took McCullough eight years to write and was published in 1992. It stands out from other presidential biographies due to its size, depth of research, and narrative style—it reads more like a novel than a history book.

In this biography, McCullough details Truman’s humble beginnings as a failed farmer in Missouri, his rise to become one of the most influential presidents in American history, and his numerous accomplishments during his two terms in office.

Key Facts Uncovered by McCullough

In researching this biography, McCullough unearthed many facts that weren’t previously known about Truman’s life—including stories told by family members, friends from childhood days, letters that had been buried away for years in archives or forgotten boxes—and used them to paint an intimate portrait of a man who was determined to serve his country well despite all odds being against him. This helped shape Truman’s legacy as one of strong moral conviction and unwavering commitment to duty even when faced with adversity or unpopular opinions.

Detailed Analysis of “Truman”

McCullough does an impressive job analyzing just how unique Truman’s political talents were. He explains how he could make decisions amidst heated debates without ever wavering from his core values or losing sight of what was best for the nation as a whole (even if those decisions proved unpopular). He also offers readers insight into why Truman was so respected by people on both sides of the aisle—his ability to see the bigger picture while still paying attention to every detail made him stand out among all other presidents before him.

Finally, readers can appreciate how meticulously researched this biography is; every fact is backed up by extensive evidence found through debate transcripts, interviews with people who knew Truman personally throughout various phases of his life, etc., making this book an invaluable resource when studying Truman’s presidency today.


David McCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography “Truman” has stood out among presidential biographies since its debut in 1992 thanks to its size and depth of research and its narrative style, which reads more like a novel than a history book.

Its importance lies not only in providing readers with an in-depth look at Harry Truman himself but also giving us valuable insight into his optimism, diligence, perseverance, and moral compass, as well as his political talents and acumen, which enabled him to make difficult decisions without ever wavering from what he felt would be best for America overall–making it essential reading for anyone looking for an understanding about one of our most beloved presidents.

The Speech Kennedy Never Gave

“…I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

Remarks at a Closed-circuit Television Broadcast on Behalf of the National Cultural Center (527), November 29, 1962, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1962.

59 years ago today, shots rang out across Dealey Plaza as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed by thousands of onlookers.

I’m sure many of you can remember exactly where you were and what you were doing that day.

While questions still surround the circumstances of JFK’s assassination, there can be no doubt about his legacy. The President was scheduled to deliver remarks later that day in Dallas.

Much of the speech is no longer timely, but the main ideas and philosophies are certainly as important today as they were 59 years ago.

So, heavily redacted, here are verbatim excerpts from the speech JFK never gave.

Leadership and learning

“It is fitting that these two symbols of Dallas progress are united in the sponsorship of this meeting. For they represent the best qualities, I am told, of leadership and learning in this city — and leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. The advancement of learning depends on community leadership for financial political support, and the products of that learning, in turn, are essential to the leadership’s hopes for continued progress and prosperity. It is not a coincidence that those communities possessing the best in research and graduate facilities — from MIT to Cal Tech — tend to attract new and growing industries. I congratulate those of you here in Dallas who have recognized these basic facts through the creation of the unique and forward-looking Graduate Research Center.”

The Best Books about JFK

“This link between leadership and learning is not only essential at the community level. It is even more indispensable in world affairs.”

“In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason — or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.”

“…fewer people will listen to nonsense.”

“There will always be dissident voices heard in the land, expressing opposition without alternative, finding fault but never favor, perceiving gloom on every side and seeking influence without responsibility. Those voices are inevitable. But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness.”

“We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will “talk sense to the American people.” But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense. And the notion that this Nation is headed for defeat through deficit, or that strength is but a matter of slogans, is nothing but just plain nonsense.”

Words alone are not enough.

“Above all, words alone are not enough. The United States is a peaceful nation. And where our strength and determination are clear, our words need merely to convey conviction, not belligerence. If we are strong, our strength will speak for itself. If we are weak, words will be of no help.”

“Freedom can be lost … by ballots as well as bullets.”

“I have spoken of strength largely in terms of the deterrence and resistance of aggression and attack. But in today’s world, freedom can be lost without a shot being fired, by ballots as well as bullets. The success of our leadership is dependent upon respect for our mission in the world as well as our missiles – on a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.”

image via Wikimedia

“An America which has fully educated its citizens…”

“Finally, it should be clear by now that a nation can be no stronger abroad than she is at home. Only an America which practices what it preaches about equal rights and social justice will be respected by those whose choice affects our future. Only an America which has fully educated its citizens is fully capable of tackling the complex problems and perceiving the hidden dangers of the world in which we live. And only an America which is growing and prospering economically can sustain the worldwide defenses of freedom, while demonstrating to all concerned the opportunities of our system and society.”

“It is clear, therefore, that we are strengthening our security as well as our economy by our recent record increases in national income and output…”

“My friends and fellow citizens: I cite these facts and figures to make it clear that America today is stronger than ever before. The strength will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions — it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations — it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.”

“We, in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than by choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength.”

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum