The Accidental President

By A.J. Baime

The Accidental President is AJ Baime's engrossing account of Harry Truman's first four months in office. This is the story of the man who shaped four months that shaped the world.

How volatile was the world when Truman stepped onto its stage? Baime relays the following,

Victory was already assured when President Roosevelt died. Since then two of the mightiest empires of the world have collapsed. History has recorded the decline and of empires before, but never with such rapidity. During these four months events that once covered years, even centuries, were consummated in weeks and days . . . Surely the revolutionary changes wrought during this period are such that it is safe to say that a new era in mankind's history is beginning. (New York Times)

This was Truman's time, his stage, his moment.

But was it? Truman wasn't even FDR's afterthought when a presidential aide suggested him as a 1944 running mate.

Baime provides the background to help us appreciate how unlikely it was that Truman would arrive on a local stage, much less serve as Senator, Vice President, and then our 33rd President. Truman was indeed The Accidental President. But as Baime's account reveals, Truman stepped onto the state, stepped up to the challenges, endured the setbacks, overcame the doubters and difficulties, and led the United States when it needed leadership the most.

Here are five reasons I recommend The Accidental President:
1. Its careful research -- The author devoted three years to researching the four months he chronicles. Primary sources (diaries, original documents, official cables, presidential files, and the official papers of key individuals) and secondary sources written by "people in the room" dominate his research.
2. Its lively writing -- The author wraps the facts in lively narrative and dialog.
3. Its historical insight -- Not only do we see the history-altering series of events Truman faced, but also how his handling (and that of his contemporaries) gave rise to other world-shaping events and movements: Truman's 21 Points, the Cold War, the Korean War, the nuclear arms race, Civil Rights, the rise of Israel in 1948, and the founding of NATO.
4. Its portrait of Truman the man -- The author shows us a very human president. He unveils Truman as a man of failure and success; decisive and yet dogged by doubts; deeply devoted to his wife and yet often lonely; troubled yet steady; a man of frailties and faith; ordinary yet extraordinary.
5. Its lessons on leadership -- While the author provides a moving narrative, one can't walk away without learning about leadership and what it means and takes to be a leader.

If you are looking for a full biography of Harry S. Truman, there is probably no better place to start than David McCullough's Pulitzer-prize winning Truman, but if you want a biographical primer on Truman the man, combined with an in-depth overview of Truman the leader at the juggernaut of world conflict and historical consequence get The Accidental President.