MEN AND DECISIONS (468 pp.)Lewis L. SfraussDoubleday ($6.95).
When last noticed by the public eye, Lewis L. Strauss was in a position of some embarrassment: the Senate refused to ratify President Eisenhower's nomination of him as Secretary of Commerce. Strauss's memoirs may now remind readers of his many real accomplishments before they were obscured by political rows.
Strauss's book mingles personal history with some memorable portraits of leading politicians and scientists. At 21 Strauss was already rubbing shoulders with them. The son of the vice president of a prosperous shoe company in Richmond, Strauss decided to seek his fortune in Washington in 1917 instead of going to college. He stationed himself outside the hotel room of Herbert Hoover, who had also just come to Washington to head the wartime Food Administration. When Hoover showed up, Strauss brashly asked him for a job. Said Hoover laconically: "Take off your coat."
Salty Man. Strauss became Hoover's private secretary, accompanied him to Europe to help with the food relief pro gram. Strauss provides glimpses of a salty Hoover. "Young man," a British admiral said to Hoover, "I don't see why you American chaps want to feed those bloody Germans." Snapped Hoover: "Old man, we can' t understand why you British chaps want to starve women and children after they are licked."
Strauss enjoyed a personal triumph at the Paris Peace Conference. He drafted a letter that Hoover sent to President Wilson urging independence for Finland. When it was granted, the Finnish representative came by with tears in his eyes to thank the young Strauss.
After the conference, Strauss went to work for the New York investment banking firm, Kuhn, Loeb & Co., stayed for 25 years. In World War II, Strauss joined the Naval Bureau of Ordnance, helped establish the Office of Naval Research. His particular hero was then Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, who, he believes, became the most powerful member of the wartime Cabinet and, had he lived, might have been Eisenhower's opponent in 1952. Strauss's particular antipathy was the Chief of Naval Operations, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King. When King announced one day that he was impounding typewriters to cut down paper work, Strauss cracked: "This would be like inhibiting pickpockets by doing away with pockets." Writes Strauss: "This was the beginning of my private war with Admiral King, which survived both V-E and V-J days."
Battle for the Bomb. Strauss was one of few in the Government to argue against using atomic bombs on Japan; he contends that U.S. policymakers knew Japan wanted to surrender long before they dropped the atomic bombs. But Strauss had no doubts about the need for the U.S. to keep ahead in the nuclear arms race. Shortly after his appointment to the AEC in 1946, he recommended building a monitoring system to detect Russian atomic blasts. At the time, most people thought a Russian atom bomb was years away; Strauss had to plead, push, finally offered $1,000,000 out of his own pocket to speed up procurement. A scant four months after the monitoring began, a Russian blast was detected.