President Truman’s Reading List

… and Wisdom from his Secretary of State, Dean Acheson

Long ago, upon reading Plain Speaking by Merle Miller, an oral biography of then former President  Harry Truman, I made notes from the book for later reference. I offer then here:

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

I recommend reading the brief biographies of the two men under the links to their names, above. All of President Truman’s ‘most-read’ books are in the public domain and can be read or reached through the links provided.

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

Dean Acheson, Secretary of State under Truman,  made a speech 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:

… 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”.