The Committee Room
looks back forty years to the spring of 1974 when Plain Speaking: an Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman
by Merle Miller topped the New York Times
Non-Fiction bestseller list. Miller's book presents Truman as a straight talking, salty-tongued Midwestern sage. This was a fresh take on a former president who up to this time had been generally dismissed by scholars and the public as a hack politician out of his depth as leader of the free world.
The success of Plain Speaking
led to a major reevaluation of Truman and his presidency.
Miller's "oral biography," published by the Berkley Publishing Corporation, is based on lengthy taped interviews that Miller conducted with Truman in 1961 and 1962, a dozen years before the book's release. At the time of the interviews, Truman was in his late seventies, living in retirement in his hometown of Independence, Missouri, and mostly ignored by the political establishment. Miller, a jack-of-all-trades Manhattan-based writer whose work included screenplays, television scripts, novels, and journalism, was hired to interview Truman for a proposed series of television programs on the former president and his administration. The proposed series was never made due to a lack of interest from television networks and Miller simply held on to the tapes.