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Book Review: The Buck Stops Here by Thomas Croughwell and Edwin Kiester, Jr.

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44-17-28: is that Barbie’s measurements? No, it’s the scorecard for The Buck Stops Here, a new book that examines important decisions made by U.S. Presidents. Here’s how it works out. We’re currently on our 44th President. Thomas Croughwell and Edwin Kiester, Jr., selected twenty-eight decisions on which to report. Those decisions were made by seventeen of thirty-seven presidents with the most recent being the one by President Nixon to visit China so Walmart could stock their shelves in 2010. The authors felt that decisions made by the seven Chief Executives since Nixon have all been too recent for an unbiased assessment of their legacy.

According to Croughwell and Kiester, the top decision makers are: the Roosevelts with four, Truman and JFK with three, and LBJ with two. All the others had one each. The decisions are presented chronologically and begin with George Washington’s response to the “Whiskey Rebellion.” He backed a position that doomed his Federalist Party in what amounted to a states’ rights issue that would have implications for decades. After the Civil War, the federal government took actions to again diminish states rights, an issue that was addressed in the 50’s and 60’s over civil rights. Will immigration force another show-down over states rights with the current U. S. President?

After dealing with such issues as the Louisiana Purchase, a war with Mexico, and the Emancipation Proclamation, the stage would soon be set for the man with the big stick. Theodore Roosevelt came along at a time in history that required decisions affecting virtually all areas of the government. The Panama Canal, conservation and a system of national parks, plus setting a world class navy to sail were all significant decisions. But his decision to invite a black man to dinner at the White House signaled to the nation that The Civil War was over.

It must have been difficult to select only twenty-eight topics and then to cover them adequately in only 273 pages (less than ten pages per). Certainly scores of books and articles have been published about each of the decisions covered here. No doubt Croughwell and Kiester had to make some significant decisions of their own. How well did they do? Time will tell, and the telling will be for the individual readers. Some may complain about the depth of the monographs while others will be disappointed that certain decisions were excluded. So it goes.

in the Oval OfficeTruman’s use of nuclear weapons, Eisenhower’s interstate highway system, and Kennedy’s moon challenge were three of the decisions that strike me as some of the most significant for the nation and the world. However, the story of Nixon going to China — ping pong diplomacy — is one of the most interesting in The Buck Stops Here. Whether it’s the realization that the cotton gin was an early factor in the development of today’s computer, or what a cocker spaniel puppy had to do with detente and normalizing relations with China, I’ve always been interested in historical connections. Add to that mix the incident of an American table tennis player missing his bus in Japan, and you’ve got a great story on how the United States got out of Viet Nam.

Nixon and Zhou EnlaiCast aside your preconceived notions and enjoy the book for the summary that it is. Probably, most readers will come away with new information on familiar topics and enlightened about new topics they missed back in the eleventh grade history class. Are high school students still required to take courses in “Civics”? The information is presented in an easy to read format and filled with illustrations and photos that will appeal to readers of all ages.

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