Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith Book Review

BeetleFive Stars

Let’s put this out there right away—this is a very long book. But don’t let the length of this book dissuade you from reading it. If you’ve ever wanted a comprehensive account of the behind-the-scenes operations of the Allied headquarters, this is it. The various personalities as well as the political and strategic struggles that Eisenhower and his staff experienced are well documented in this book. Frankly, I couldn’t put the book down.

The author wrote a previous book on Smith that was based on his PhD thesis. It’s rare that an author will write a second biography on the same person but Mr. Crosswell felt that he could do a more in-depth look at Smith’s life, in particular when he was chief of staff to Eisenhower. I liked the way the author started the book out.

The “normal” biographical format is for the chronology to begin with the subject’s birth, childhood, and early years before transgressing into the part of their life that brought them fame (at least enough fame to be the subject of a book). Mr. Crosswell begins Smith’s saga after the end of World War II when he served two presidents: as Truman’s ambassador to the Soviet Union and director of the Central Intelligence Agency; then as Eisenhower’s undersecretary of state and key advisor to the president. One gets to know the man before you get to the meat of the book and Smith’s all-too-important role.

I believe the author accomplished what he set out to do: write a well-researched book. He gained access to many important sources—I suspect some of the material had been recently declassified by the time he got to it. The book will explain many of the top-level decisions made during the war as well as the tug of war that went on between the Allied leaders. You step back and wonder sometimes how we won the war and how close we came on occasion to really messing things up. It only goes to show that the side that wins a war is the one who is the luckiest: Napoléon was once asked if he wanted the greatest generals under his command—he replied “No, I want the luckiest ones.”

The book confirms what we pretty much knew about General Eisenhower. He was not the best military strategist but definitely was the right person to lead the Allied efforts. His skills in dealing with the politics and personalities were second to none. Everything else, Ike left up to Smith. By the time you’re finished reading, you are left with the impression that without General Smith, we may have lost the war.

While I haven’t read the biography or autobiography of every World War II general, I can tell you that of the ones I have read, this is one of the best.

Author:                       Crosswell, D.K.R.

Date Published:       2012

Publisher:                  University Press of Kentucky

Page Count:               1,088 (hardcover)