Picks and Pans Review: Mrs. Ike: Memories and Reflections on the Life of Mamie Eisenhower
by Susan Eisenhower
Now that we're spending so much time and ink debating which qualities make a First Lady into either a political asset or a liability, it's instructive to read Susan Eisenhower's sympathetic biography of her grandmother Mamie Doud Eisenhower. No public relations whiz or spin doctor coached Mamie during her difficult metamorphosis from soldier's bride to general's wife to presidential consort. All she had to do was get through it, which was rarely easy. Despite all its satisfactions, her life was a lonely and arduous one.
Plagued by frail health, she was forced to choose between long, worrisome separations from Ike and frequent moves to inhospitable postings: tropical heat and insects in the Philippines and Panama, freezing weather in France, substandard housing in Depression-era Washington. Worst of all, she was haunted by the memory of her older son, who died at the age of 3 from scarlet fever and meningitis.
The book's tone seems faintly defensive on the subjects of Mamie's alleged alcoholism (Eisenhower argues that a middle-ear condition, not drink, was what made her grandmother visibly tipsy) and Ike's rumored affair with his pretty wartime driver Kay Summersby. And the author fails to address the question of why Mamie, who died in 1979 at age 82, never considered emulating her more active predecessor Eleanor Roosevelt. Still, what emerges is a well-researched portrait of a modest, resilient woman who clearly believed that the job of a President's wife was to act, first and last, like a lady. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25)
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