Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson

After an introduction, I present two sets of things to you:

  1. A list of books most read by the USA’s 33rd president, Harry S. Truman
  2. Two quotations from Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson


I am near the end of a decades-long task: transcribing old written notes into digital form. I came across a “log” entry dated April 12, 1974 and cannot resist sharing it in this forum. It is headed “Reading Plain Speaking by Merle Miller (Harry Truman’s oral biography)”.

I recommend reading the brief biographies of the two men under the links to their names, above. Your knowing more about these men will lend proper gravity to your reading of the following words.

Note that all the books are in the public domain and can be read or reached through the links provided — an unavailable modernity when I wrote this list forty-eight years ago.

Page 111—Truman’s most-read books

Plutarch’s Lives
Caesar’s Commentaries
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography
Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Bunker Bean by Harry Leon Wilson
Missouri’s Struggle for Statehood, 1804-1821, by Floyd Calvin Shoemaker
Bible (King James Version)
Plato’s Republic
William Shakespeare, all writings especially:

Complete works of Robert Burns
Complete works of Lord Byron (George Gordon), especially Childe Harold
Edward Shepherd Creasy’s Fifteen Decisive Battles Of The World: From Marathon To Waterloo
Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution

Quoting Dean Acheson

On page 239, Dean Acheson (Secretary of State under Truman) is quoted in a speech he made to the Associated Harvard Clubs of Boston on June 4, 1946 when he was Under-secretary of State:

Dean Acheson

For a long time we have gone along with some well-tested principles of conduct: that it was better to tell the truth than falsehoods; that a half-truth was no truth at all; that duties were older than and as fundamental as rights; that, as Justice Holmes put it, the mode by which the inevitable came to pass was effort; that to perpetuate a harm was always wrong, no matter how many joined in it, but to perpetuate it on a weaker person was particularly detestable… Our institutions are founded on the assumption that most people will follow these principles most of the time because they want to, and the institutions work pretty well when this assumption is true.

It seems to me the path of hope is toward the concrete, the manageable… But it is a long and tough job, and one for which we as a people are not particularly suited. We believe that any problem can be solved with a little ingenuity and without inconvenience to the folks at large…

And our name for problems is significant. We call them headaches. You take a powder and they are gone. These pains about which we have been talking are not like that. They are like the pain of earning a living. They will stay with us until death. We have got to understand that all our lives the danger, the uncertainty, the need for alertness, for effort, for discipline will be upon us. It will be hard for us. But we are in for it, and the only question is whether we shall know it soon enough.


Quoting Dean Acheson again on Page 268:

… The manner in which one endured what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured, I am inclined to agree with Sir Francis Bacon that: “the good things that belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things which belong to adversity are to be admired”.

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Books & Literature, Government & Politics, History and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Harry S. Truman and Dean Acheson

  1. Donald Miller says:

    I need to get back into reading the Great Books. Plutarch’s Lives is a good starting point for someone like me who has read Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, and Epictetus. I remember reading parts of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. It was a good read.

    After Plutarch’s Lives, maybe The Aeneid.


  2. Ron Pavellas says:

    One of several others I could put on the list is The Complete Correspondence Between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams: http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/page/249.


  3. For more great quotes from Acheson (who I once heard Senator / Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan call “the great man of American foreign policy”) see this wikiquote page: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Dean_Acheson

    Almost all of the quotes found on that page are from Acheson’s book, “Present at the Creation.” That is a great book to read to learn but our nation’s foreign policy during the WWII and immediate post-WWII era. The foundations of our foreign policy then continue to serve as the basis for much of our foreign policy today.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.