A new book shows us that you can't ever count on winning. 

The Upset of Last Century?

The night of the 1948 presidential election, Thomas Dewey was so confident of his victory that, weeks before the election, he had been corresponding with his mother about how much room there was for family who would come for his inauguration. And we have all seen the photo of Truman holding the famous Chicago Daily Tribune headline that trumpeted "Dewey Defeats Truman."

For those of us who are old enough to have lived through the 1948 Truman-Dewey campaign, Zarachy Karabell's "The Last Campaign" (Knopf $27.50) is a nostalgic treat. For the majority of readers who do not remember Truman's stunning upset, the book is an enlightening read. With one caveat: You must be interested in politics. If you are, the details of how Truman put together his win are interesting. Karabell tells us that contrary to common belief, Truman did not win just because he rode a campaign train speaking with fire and conviction to ever-larger crowds. He put together a masterful and minutely planned campaign that Dewey never saw coming. He did speak with fire, and he did "give 'em hell," and he connected thus with the crowds, but, according to Karabell, he also benefited from his own sharp political talents and from guidance from a smart and well-organized staff.

Several themes sprinkle the book. The Dixiecrats, led by Strom Thurmond, were motivated by what still seems a contemporary belief. They were convinced that "The extension of federal power would destroy the American system of government ..." Henry Wallace, on the other hand, campaigned hard on the convictions of the left, beliefs such as no universal military, inflation and no Cold War.

Truman staked out a position that took in much of Wallace's populism, setting the farmers and labor against the wealthy, and Karabell tells us, by the vicious tone of his speeches, he infuriated the Republicans so much that they made the rest of his time as president miserable.

As for it being the last campaign, Karabell does not completely make his case. Granted, as he believes, TV has changed the nature of campaigns. There are smoothly packaged TV candidates who do not speak with Truman's informal conviction, but the campaigns today contain enough fire and conflict to stand up to the 1948 event.

This is a fine contribution to the informal history of our times.

Get ready for Harry Potter No. 4: "Harry Potter and the Doomspell Tournament." It will be available July 8, but you can get your name on waiting lists for the 700-page book now. It is already the No. 1 seller on Amazon.com.

According to Publisher's Weekly e-mail to independent booksellers, another popular children's book will arrive in October of this year. The third and final installment of Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. This one is called "The Amber Spyglass" (Knopf Books for Young Readers) and is about 528 pages long.


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