American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 7 Aug 2005
American Caesar was one of those books that once you pick it up, you will find yourself flipping through pages deep into the night. Without keeping any suspense, I will flat out say that it was easily among one of the best books I have read.
The author William Manchester had done an exhaustive research on Douglas MacArthur for this book, detailing every event from his birth at an army fort through his funeral; the bibliography section of the book alone was twenty pages long. The facts dug as deep as the fact that Sarah Barney Belcher of Taunton, Massachusetts was a common ancestor of Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt. However, Manchester did not capture readers by merely loading his book with facts. Instead, he captivated readers with his beautiful narratives. Under his penmanship, the horrors of WW1 trench warfare came alive with two simple description sentences at the beginning of chapter two:
What Manchester was most notably successful with this book was the smooth interaction between minute details with the big picture, leaving the reader in complete understanding of how seemingly small events weaved into the fabric of MacArthur's life. MacArthur was one of the most controversial public figures of the 20th century, and Manchester succeeded in explaining how each step he had taken in his life developed his unique personality, and in turn how his personality shaped the modern history of Asia and the United States. However, by my observation by the end of the book Manchester had become so much a worshipful fan of MacArthur that as the book went on, critiques of MacArthur appeared less and less. When critiques were included, they often only appeared in form of a small-fonted footnote.
Nevertheless, Manchester's writing alone was worth the time I invested in reading this 700-page volume. Reading about his tenure in WW1 and WW2, I found myself cheering for him in his ventures. When as a general he walked the frontlines in the path of danger, my heartbeats skipped a beat whenever a sniper's scope came near him. By the time he was fired because of the initial American losses at the Korean War, I became enraged over the SCAP becoming the scapegoat for Washington's lack of intelligence on China. When MacArthur tearfully told the people of Philippines that in his old age he could no longer promise again "I shall return", I too became teary-eyed alongside of the Filipino people who listened to their savior with watery eyes. Finally, when I finished reading the last word of the last chapter, I closed American Caesar and wept as if I had lost a lifelong friend. Manchester gets a perfect 10 out of 10 from me for being able to write a book that not only accurately depicts the life of Douglas MacArthur but also being able to reach out and touch me emotionally through the book.
Pick it up, and you will see why it is no surprise that American Caesar was a #1 Best Seller.
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Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 16 Mar 1945