The Soul of an American President Cover

The Soul of an American President

The Untold Story of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Faith

Alan Sears, Craig Osten, and Ryan Cole

Baker Books, Ada, Michigan, 2019, 240 pages

Book Review published on: May 22, 2020

Former President and General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower is the subject of many books, none of which express his religious beliefs. In The Soul of an American President: The Untold Story of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Faith, Alan Sears, Craig Osten, and Ryan Cole attempt to bring these beliefs into the light and to the reader. Eisenhower, or “Ike,” is known as a president who often spoke of God and faith, but how did his faith develop and mature as he rose from a poor boy born in Texas to supreme commander of European operations in World War II and president of the United States?

Through fourteen well-organized chapters, the authors look back through Eisenhower’s life. His family were initially members of the Church of the Brethren of Christ, based from the community-oriented River Brethren. While Ike was still a little boy, his parents converted to a denomination known as Bible Students, and by age twelve, Ike had read the entire Bible. Bible Students later morphed into the modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ike’s family completely shifted to the Bible Students’ religion and were soon hosting meetings, called watchtower meetings, in their home.

Though Eisenhower remained quiet regarding his faith in his early years, he did choose to go against his family and their religious pacifism to seek and gain an appointment to West Point, from which he graduated in 1915. Little is known about his faith during his early assignments in Texas (where he met and married Mamie), Georgia, and the Philippines. Even with the loss of Eisenhower’s firstborn, the authors found little information about his faith. It was as he rose to command the European Theater of Operations that his faith came out into the open. Ike contributed a prayer to A Prayer Book for Soldiers and Sailors. Later, now supreme commander of European Operations, his speech to troops preparing to move to Normandy was filled with Christian imagery.

As Ike’s career continued to climb, he became the Army chief of staff and was increasingly vocal about religion and matters of faith. He contributed to another prayer book for those serving in Korea. The authors also describe how Ike established friendships with key Christian leaders like Billy Graham and ministers in Washington, D.C., and Gettysburg. While supreme Allied commander of Europe, after realizing most candidates for president were running on an isolationist platform, Ike threw his hat into the ring as he believed America should maintain its place as a leader in a free world. Once elected, he started several religious traditions like the National Prayer Breakfast, prayers before cabinet meetings, adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, and adopting “In God We Trust” as our national motto. Additionally, faced with the new Soviet Union and the “Iron Curtain,” he continually championed God and urged people from all faiths to resist communism and push to allow men and women to be free.

The authors’ writing style is easy to follow. I appreciate how they honestly say when research is scarce and they cannot pin down an event or a belief. The book is well-referenced with footnotes through all the chapters. Surprisingly, there is not the normal section of photographs of Ike throughout his life. Perhaps the authors felt that was well covered in the many other books about him, but I think it would add value to this book.

I gained a greater appreciation of Eisenhower and also of the authors’ abilities to find answers on how Ike developed his faith. Faith is usually not discussed much outside close circles of family, but the authors conveyed how Eisenhower realized speaking out with faith and how he trusted God could provide both a moral compass to our country and to the world while also anchoring him as he made difficult decisions that put thousands of lives at risk. The authors also describe the friendships Ike built, and in some cases, how he built relationships with ministers and other men of faith. Late in life, as his health declined, he would still visit Augusta National Golf Course and the church. When asked of Ike’s time at Augusta, the reply was, “He stayed, he prayed, he played.”

The Soul of an American President is a great selection for both young and mature leaders. It is said leaders learn from other leaders, and Ike was a great one. As the Army struggles with physical and spiritual resilience of its soldiers and worries of building soldiers with strong morals and values, this book might be helpful for leaders, providing insights on how one man grew from a small town in Texas to command the D-Day invasion and ultimately lead America as a president who truly believed America was “One Nation, Under God.”

Book Review written by: Mike Bizer, Fort Belvoir, Virginia