book report: At Ease, Stories I tell to Friends by Ike Eisenhower

At Ease is a delightful read from a former US president and NATO commander and WWII general. But all these accomplishments are backdrop to a life lived by an ordinary man who smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day and loved to play poker and win. He loved football and trained hard enough to make the West Point team his sophomore year only to blow out his knee midway through the season, never to play again. He portrays himself with small ambitions but great preparation that enabled him to handle the great responsibilities given him.


One form of preparation was his education through great books. His instructor was a senior officer on post in Panama, General Connor. He writes of him,



The commander of our brigade was a practical officer, down to earth, equally at home in the company of the most important people in the region and with any of the men in any regiment. General Conner was a tall, Easygoing Mississippian, he never put on airs of any kind, and he was as open and honest as any man I have known. One change in my attitude he accomplished quickly- with profound and endless results...


With this kind of lead into a discussion, sometimes hardly more than a rambling bull session, we would broaden it into a general conversation about the long history of man, his ideas, and works. Excited by these talks and thoughts, I read in the works of authors strange to me: Plato, and Tacitus of the Roman nation, and in historical and philosophical writers among the moderns, including Nietzsche. No matter what time of day or evening I would walk across to General Conner's house to ask for another book from his library, he seemed delighted that I was there. and when he got the book of my choice, he would casually volunteer a second. As I read each one, I tried to digest its main themes and important points-I could be sure that sooner or later the General would be asking me about them.


Our conversations continued throughout the three years I served with him in the isolated post of Camp Gaillard. It is clear now that life with General Conner was a sort of graduate school in military affairs and the humanities, leavened by the comments and discourses of a man who was experienced in his knowledge of men and their conduct. I can never adequately express my gratitude to this one gentleman, for it took years before I fully realized the value of what he had led me through. and then General Conner was gone. But in a lifetime of association with great and good men, he is the one more or less invisible figure to whom I owe an incalculable debt.



Ike got an education by learned discussion of great literature. Since I ran out of money for graduate classes, I've had time to read again, and I'm learning so much. I only found Ike's book because of a reference to it in Donald Miller's book, which I recently blogged about.


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