For at least a year before the 1948 presidential election, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey was almost universally expected to beat the incumbent, former Vice President Harry Truman. (Apparently, even Truman himself thought he would lose.) The title of Thomas Mallon’s brilliant novel about that time was an infamous headline in the Chicago Tribune which wishfully predicted on election night that “Dewey Defeats Truman.”
A pivotal time in our political history
With election year in the background, Mallon spins a tale set in Tom Dewey’s home town, Owosso, Michigan. There he introduces a large cast of local characters, including Dewey’s mother, whose complex interrelationships wax and wane in the course of the novel. Every character is finely drawn, as though grabbed out of memory. Mallon writes with a sure hand about the love triangle among Peter Cox, “a hot young lawyer” who is running for the State Assembly, the beautiful newcomer Anne Macmurray, and an up-and-coming labor leader named Jack Riley. He finds drama in the daily lives of every character in town.
Dewey Defeats Truman by Thomas Mallon @@@@ (4 out of 5)
His command of the politics of the time is impressive, too. Mallon does solid research. (He was born three years after the 1948 election.) Set three years after the end of World War II, Dewey Defeats Truman reflects the boundless optimism of the period. In hindsight, we recognize the flip side of the time, as the Cold War intensified with the Berlin blockade and airlift and the fast-accelerating Red Scare at home.
About the author
Thomas Mallon is one of the most gifted interpreters of America’s political history. Dewey Defeats Truman was the first of several insightful novels built around historical figures and events at particular inflection points in our history: the 1948 election, Watergate, and the administration of Ronald Reagan.
For further reading
I’ve also reviewed four other political novels by Thomas Mallon:
- Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years (Ronald Reagan deconstructed in a new novel)
- Fellow Travelers (Thomas Mallon on America’s third Red Scare)
- Watergate (Watergate through a novelist’s eyes)
- Landfall (A novelist’s sympathetic portrait of George W. Bush)
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