Picks and Pans Review: Dear Bess

updated 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Edited by Robert H. Ferrell

He was a skinny farmer with wire-rimmed glasses. She was a lovely young woman who lived in town with her well-to-do family. He was smitten with a love that lasted well beyond their 50th anniversary and, because they spent so much time apart—she detested Washington, D.C. and the White House-he wrote to her almost daily. Harry S. Truman was no literary genius, but his letters to his wife are delightfully cheerful and outspoken. "Grand" is a favorite adjective. What woman could resist a man who wrote from his Senate chamber: "I was so devilishly homesick—I could see you standing out there in the yard watching me drive away and I don't think you kissed me good-bye, or you can put it around the other way if you want me on the defensive." Ferrell, a professor of history at Indiana University and a Truman expert, gained access to the letters when Margaret Truman gave them to the Truman library after Bess' death in 1982. He has provided transitional passages for the almost 600 pages of letters in this volume. But it is the simplicity and honesty of the letters themselves that make this book valuable. While Truman revealed many details of politics and world affairs in them, the personal, homey and loving messages to Bess and daughter Margaret—interpreting his role in world events for their amusement—are also positively fun to read. After a brief stay in Independence was interrupted by the crisis in Korea in 1950, he wrote: "Haven't been so badly upset since Greece and Turkey fell into our lap. Let's hope for the best.... Lots and lots of love and many happy returns for the thirty-first year of your ordeal with me. It's been all pleasure for me." (Norton, $19.95)

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