The author of a book on a key early test of Harry Truman as America’s president has been named this year’s winner of the Truman Book Award.
Michael S. Neiberg is the author of “Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe.” The Truman Library Institute presents the award every other year, and it will be given to Neiberg during a Truman Forum event in Kansas City on July 21.
“This will be the standard book on the (Potsdam) conference,” wrote one member of the selection committee, Alonzo L. Hamby, a professor emeritus in history at Ohio University and considered by many to be the leading scholarly authority on Truman. Hamby has won the Truman Book award twice, for “Beyond the New Deal: Harry S. Truman and American Liberalism” and “Man of the People: A Life of Harry S. Truman.”
World War II in Europe had been over for two months and Truman had been president for just three months when Allied leaders – Truman, Britain’s Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin – met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam. They discussed the occupation of Germany and the restructuring of its economy as well as the need for free elections in Soviet-occupied Eastern Europe. They again demanded Japan’s complete surrender, which came weeks later after the two atomic bombings.
Many Americans held their breaths, wondering if Truman could hold his own with Churchill and Stalin, though the consensus of history is that he did fine.
It’s also generally thought that the first strains of the Cold War appeared at Potsdam, though Neiberg sees it differently, with more of an emphasis on addressing more immediate post-war issues. “His contrast with the efforts of the peacemakers at Versailles (after the end of World War I) is well done and the insights about how the Potsdam participants tried to avoid the mistakes of 1919 are illuminating,” wrote another selection committee member, Jason Parker, a professor of history at Texas A&M University.
Neiberg is a professor of history and the chair of war studies at the U.S. Army War College. His previous books include “The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944” and “Fighting the Great War.”
The Truman Book Award dates to 1969. Past winners include “Present at the Creation,” by Dean Acheson (secretary of state under Truman); “Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations,” by Stephen C. Schlesinger; and “The Loneliest Campaign: The Truman Victory of 1948.” The winner two years ago was Thomas W. Devine for “Henry Wallace’s 1948 Presidential Campaign.”
There were 26 entries this year, including “Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israeli Relationship from Truman through Obama,” by Dennis Ross; “Truman, Congress, and Korea: The Politics of America’s First Undeclared War,” by Larry Blomstedt; and “Whistle Stop: How 31,000 Miles of Train Travel, 352 Speeches and Little Midwest Gumption Saved the Presidency of Harry Truman,” by Philip White.
Ross, a former ambassador, will be in Kansas City on May 9 to deliver the inaugural “Truman and Israel” lecture.