The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World

The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World

The dramatic, pulse-pounding story of Harry Truman’s first four months in office, when this unlikely, small-town Washington outsider had to take on Germany, Japan, Stalin, and the atomic bomb, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.Heroes are often defined as ordinary characters who get thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and through courage and a dash of l...

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Title:The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World
Author:A.J. Baime
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The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World Reviews

  • Nancy

    "Never had fate shoehorned so much history into such a short period." The Accidental President, A. J. Baime

    His first response was "No." Truman did not want the position of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's new Vice President.

    But FDR commanded it, and Harry S. Truman had to agree.

    FDR was not a well man when he took office for a fourth term. And when he died on April 12, 1945, Truman said, "the whole weight of the moon and stars fell on me."

    "Who the hell is Harry Truman?"

    The Accidental President b

    "Never had fate shoehorned so much history into such a short period." The Accidental President, A. J. Baime

    His first response was "No." Truman did not want the position of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's new Vice President.

    But FDR commanded it, and Harry S. Truman had to agree.

    FDR was not a well man when he took office for a fourth term. And when he died on April 12, 1945, Truman said, "the whole weight of the moon and stars fell on me."

    "Who the hell is Harry Truman?"

    The Accidental President by A. J. Baime focuses on Truman's first four months in the presidency, portraying Truman as an unknown 'Everyman' kept out of FDR's loop, but who quickly gained the nation's trust and approval while tackling huge challenges. He came into the job with only a layman's knowledge of international politics but scrambled to catch up. Monumental decisions awaited.

    Baime offers a condensed biography and profile of Truman and a detailed recreation of his first four months in the presidency. It is daunting to consider what this failed businessman with a high school degree had to contend with! His straight talking, systematic thinking, and unpretentious style was refreshing and his staff was surprised, and appreciative, of his competence.

    When Truman took office, the U.S. Army was fifty-seven miles from Berlin. General Dwight Eisenhower had discovered the horrors of Nazi death camps. General LeMay was ruthlessly firebombing Japan, while Japan was sending out mass suicide missions of Kamikaze pilots. Iwo Jima was captured but a third of the American landing force had died.

    The Soviets had suffered huge losses battling the Nazis. They wanted payback. Liberating Poland and Austria, they installed puppet regimes. Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote, "An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front."

    What to do with Germany had to be decided. Already the Soviets were plundering, hauling away everything they could. If the Soviets joined in war against Japan, they would want a part of Japan, too. Truman could not allow a Soviet presence in Japan.

    All of Central Europe's infrastructure had collapsed. Seven million persons were displaced without food or coal for heating. Children suffered from malnutrition.

    Yugoslavia wanted a piece of Italy. Chaing Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung had divided China.

    The United Nations was yet to be organized, it's future unknown.

    Would the U.S. recognize the new state of Israel?

    The American wartime economy was thriving, but what would happen when the war contracts ended and servicemen returned home?

    Churchill, who would soon lose his position as Prime Minister, Truman, and Stalin gathered at Potsdam. Truman need all his poker skills when facing off with Stalin. In his pocket was the upcoming test of the most terrible weapon ever known. If used against Japan, would it mean the end of civilization?

    Reading about this tumultuous time was exciting and disconcerting. The whole world I grew up in was determined during these first months of 1945.

    In his notes, Bamie states that history is a kind of myth that morphs through time as new evidence is unearthed and interpretations arise. The author spent three years sifting through original sources, diaries, and documents, ferreting out "new accession" including oral histories.

    I enjoyed this highly readable and informative study.

    I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair an unbiased review.

  • Brent McGregor

    Right Man, Right Time

    Harry S Truman has been one of the most forgotten presidents of the 20th Century. Standing in the shadow of FDR, it's easy to see why. But my cynicism of FDR is well founded, especially when in his 4th term the events of his hapless arrogance threw this nobody from Independence, MO. into what under his leadership became the most powerful position in the wold.

    To think that it was Truman who led America into the position as the greatest superpower the world has ever seen shoul

    Right Man, Right Time

    Harry S Truman has been one of the most forgotten presidents of the 20th Century. Standing in the shadow of FDR, it's easy to see why. But my cynicism of FDR is well founded, especially when in his 4th term the events of his hapless arrogance threw this nobody from Independence, MO. into what under his leadership became the most powerful position in the wold.

    To think that it was Truman who led America into the position as the greatest superpower the world has ever seen should be something to consider.

    Many say that FDR got us through the war; but I think it was the media that did, whose agenda FDR carefully adhered to.

    It was Truman as a senator who really prepared America for entry into a war where their participation dealt the final blow to the Axis powers.

    The investigations that Truman launched revealed staggering corruption and theft. We begin to see that FDR was not a man who could make tough unpopular choices but rather followed his political nose.

    The trouble with the Soviets was Truman's first confrontation over a lackadaisical former presidency that let Stalin trample agreements which would cost millions blood and treasure. Truman's confrontation with Molotov was classic (no spoilers) and my already growing admiration for Truman went sky high.

    The later decisions that Truman had to make based on just a few weeks of briefings reveal a man able to assimilate complex international situations and distill their most important elements while rapidly making critical decisions.

    I was amazed at how sound his judgement was.

    And the press loved him (mostly). His straight shooting, no nonsense, everyman way was a welcome breath of fresh air. His ability to answer questions immediately and clearly outstripped anything FDR was capable of, and everyone knew it.

    The bulk of the book is spent covering the deteriorating relationship between the US and USSR. It is totally obvious to us today that Stalin's spies had infiltrated the US in areas we're still finding out about, but most important was our top secret military research. The race for the atomic bomb became more important than winning the war against Japan since it was obvious that the USSR was nearing the end of their A-bomb development. We also were completely aware that a thug like Stalin would not hesitate to use it without discretion.

    That was where a Truman presidency, accidental or not, was what kept the US on the right side of history.

    Truman's home life is lightly covered since Bess was very shy of any attention. One gains an immediate sympathy for a woman whose modesty was assaulted by an ever growing public curiosity.

    Neither Harry or Bess ever expected this, but thank god he was there.

  • Jean

    I have read many biographies about Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). In this book A. J. Baime narrows the scope of the book to the first four months of the presidency. The author does provide some early history of Truman so the reader understands how events came about.

    On April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt summoned Truman to the White House to inform him of the death of FDR. Truman said his worst nightmare immediately became a reality. He had only been Vice President for three months and had not been i

    I have read many biographies about Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). In this book A. J. Baime narrows the scope of the book to the first four months of the presidency. The author does provide some early history of Truman so the reader understands how events came about.

    On April 12, 1945, Eleanor Roosevelt summoned Truman to the White House to inform him of the death of FDR. Truman said his worst nightmare immediately became a reality. He had only been Vice President for three months and had not been informed about anything by FDR. It would have been extremely difficult for anyone to follow in the footsteps of the charismatic Roosevelt. Truman was honest, decisive and hardworking. Some of the problems he faced that Baime goes into in depth are:

    1. The war with Germany

    2. The war with Japan

    3. Learned about the Manhattan project. Had to decide about using the bomb on Japan.

    4. The founding of the United Nations

    5. The devastation of Europe and the starving refugees. He sent President Hoover to Europe to deal with the logistics of feeding the people. He and General Marshall developed the Marshall Plan to deal with Europe.

    6. Russia posed challenges and different goals. Stalin failed to honor any of his agreements he made with Churchill and Roosevelt about Eastern Europe. Russia developed the atomic bomb and the cold war began.

    The book is well-written and meticulously researched. Baime is a journalist and the book is written in that style. Baime detailed a chronology as to how Truman transformed into a president and leader of the world. Baime makes history come alive and makes an enjoyable read. The book is well organized. Truman faced many difficult situations over his presidency that had great effect upon the world and the United States. In fact, Baime claims no other president in the history of the United States has faced such difficulties at the beginning of their presidency.

    I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Tony Messano does a good job narrating the book. Messano is a voice-over artist and audiobook narrator. This is my first experience with listening to Messano.

  • Emily Ross

    Thank you to the publishers for providing an ARC of this book through NetGalley.

    This was a brilliant biography of Truman, concerning the first four months of his presidency. It briefly covers a few months prior to Roosevelt’s death, so we understand how Truman came to make the decisions he did, and goes into depth concerning the war with Germany and the war with Japan, the Manhattan Project, the formation of the United Nations, Europe’s struggle to feed its peoples and refugees and the burgeonin

    Thank you to the publishers for providing an ARC of this book through NetGalley.

    This was a brilliant biography of Truman, concerning the first four months of his presidency. It briefly covers a few months prior to Roosevelt’s death, so we understand how Truman came to make the decisions he did, and goes into depth concerning the war with Germany and the war with Japan, the Manhattan Project, the formation of the United Nations, Europe’s struggle to feed its peoples and refugees and the burgeoning problem of Russia.

    This was well researched and well written. Baime is a journalist and this comes across in the writing style. He makes you feel for Truman and humanises him very well. I liked Truman before reading this book, but I like him more having read this.

  • Mark Mortensen

    Harry Truman was sworn in as the 33rd U.S. President on April 12, 1945 following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first 1/3 of the book provides a background while the final 2/3 captures Truman’s first four months in office most notably as Commander-in-Chief during the final stages of World War II. When Truman took office the stage was already set for rapid historical events to unfold, but certain decisions still had to be made. The fall of Germany, the Postsdam Conference and t

    Harry Truman was sworn in as the 33rd U.S. President on April 12, 1945 following the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The first 1/3 of the book provides a background while the final 2/3 captures Truman’s first four months in office most notably as Commander-in-Chief during the final stages of World War II. When Truman took office the stage was already set for rapid historical events to unfold, but certain decisions still had to be made. The fall of Germany, the Postsdam Conference and the climactic mission of Enola Gay dropping Little Boy serve as a backdrop to Truman’s daily inner thoughts. Author A. J. Baime shows the strengths and weaknesses within the president who shunned the limelight.

    On a side note, in 2011 actor/screenwriter Ed Nelson and his lovely wife visited our home a few times. As a voting member of the Academy Awards he had visions for my WWI biography to be on the “Big Screen” and he would do the screenwriting. Ed was most famous for playing Dr. Michael Rossi on the TV series Peyton Place however for a few years in the mid-70’s he filled in for James Whitmore playing President Truman on stage, on the National Tour of "Give 'Em Hell, Harry". During his first visit Ed stood in our living room and performed a few segments as Truman!

  • Zora

    Very well written and researched, with vivid scenes and one detail about the bomb that was new to me. (Hard to do...I've read quite a bit about it)

    Considering who is president as I write this, it's a bit depressing, but that's not the author's fault!

  • Jill Meyer

    It was not until April 25, 1945 (or page 167 of A.J. Baime's "The Accidental President"), that newly inaugurated president Harry Truman was told about the US development of the atomic bomb. That was nearly two weeks after Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who had died on April 12th. (I'm not exactly sure, but I think the Soviets may have known about the bomb before Truman did because of the spying done at Los Alamos.) Why hadn't Truman, who had been Vice-President since January 20, 1945, been

    It was not until April 25, 1945 (or page 167 of A.J. Baime's "The Accidental President"), that newly inaugurated president Harry Truman was told about the US development of the atomic bomb. That was nearly two weeks after Truman succeeded Franklin Roosevelt, who had died on April 12th. (I'm not exactly sure, but I think the Soviets may have known about the bomb before Truman did because of the spying done at Los Alamos.) Why hadn't Truman, who had been Vice-President since January 20, 1945, been let into the loop?

    A.J. Baime covers this and lots more in his book, "The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World". It's a book that concentrates on a short time in history, but gives the reader the full story of how that period of time relates to the periods that came before and after. He writes a short bio of Truman and his family before moving into his nomination as Vice-President (the voting was actually done on the floor of the Democratic convention, different from today when the Presidential candidate selects his running mate and a perfunctory floor vote is taken). Truman was considered a dark horse and underestimated by those who didn't know him - like Franklin Roosevelt - but he was much respected by his peers in the Senate. His formation in 1941 of the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program boosted his national profile a bit, but he was still an unknown quantity by the American public, shocked and saddened after Roosevelt's sudden death.

    Baime covers the Allied meeting at Potsdam, the decision to drop the two atomic bombs, and the early formation of the United Nations, among other topics. But most of all, Baime examines Harry Truman, the man and the statesman and how the challenges of his "accidental presidency" were met and exceeded.

    A.J. Baime's book is one of the best history books I've read. He's an easy writer and his words seem to flow on the page.

  • Noah Goats

    When Harry Truman became president upon the death of FDR, he was stepping into the shoes of the most revered politician of the 20th century. Roosevelt was deeply loved by most Americans and had been president so long that many of the soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific couldn't remember a time when any one else was president. Truman, on the other hand, was a relative nobody. He was a fairly obscure Missourian who was picked to be vice president mainly because nobody hated him enough to o

    When Harry Truman became president upon the death of FDR, he was stepping into the shoes of the most revered politician of the 20th century. Roosevelt was deeply loved by most Americans and had been president so long that many of the soldiers fighting in Europe and the Pacific couldn't remember a time when any one else was president. Truman, on the other hand, was a relative nobody. He was a fairly obscure Missourian who was picked to be vice president mainly because nobody hated him enough to object to his nomination.

    And yet, in his first four months in office this nobody would be faced with huge events and daunting problems. These included the fall of Germany, the Potsdam conference, the growing chill in relations with the Russians, the formation of the UN, and, of course, the decision to use the atomic bomb (a weapon he had not even known was being developed until he became president). Truman didn't have FDR's self assurance and charisma, but he was as honest, hard working, decisive, and decent a president as this country has ever had, and he used his virtues to provide solid leadership through all this turbulence.

    A.J. Baime (who also wrote Go Like Hell, a fantastic book about Ford's successful efforts to defeat Ferrari at Le Mons) has written a very engaging account of this president and his eventful first four months in office.

  • Peter Goodman

    “The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the four months that changed the world,” by A. J. Baime (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). And four months it is. I don’t even mind the subtitle. Baime provides essential background: Truman actually saw combat in WWI; his failed businesses; his true farm upbringing. It was his absolute honesty and integrity that brought him to the attention of Tom Pendergast, who ran Kansas City. Truman had no interest in politics, but he turned out to be a good jud

    “The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the four months that changed the world,” by A. J. Baime (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). And four months it is. I don’t even mind the subtitle. Baime provides essential background: Truman actually saw combat in WWI; his failed businesses; his true farm upbringing. It was his absolute honesty and integrity that brought him to the attention of Tom Pendergast, who ran Kansas City. Truman had no interest in politics, but he turned out to be a good judge (he paved the roads in his county) and a good man to have around. He had to be coaxed into everything: he did not want to senator, and there were four others with better shots. But he ran a good campaign and won. Once in the Senate he was quiet but did good work, especially with the Truman Commission that uncovered corruption and incompetence in the factories beginning to build war materiel. He did not expect, and did not want, to be vice president. But Roosevelt decided to back him, and so he joined FDR’s ticket in 1944. Everyone in DC knew Roosevelt was dying, and they joked about the VP becoming the president. But not seriously. As VP he had absolutely nothing to do. The few times he actually met the president he was shocked at how ill Roosevelt was. Then, President! (btw, his mother thought it was all ridiculous and his wife, Bess, absolutely hated life in DC and all the tumult that went with it. But suddenly Harry S. Truman was president, and Baime says---and demonstrates---that the four months between his accession and the end of WWII were among the most challenging and crucial times in American history. During that period, Truman became extremely popular. He was actually a man of the people: he would skip out of the White House for a walk, and the secret service had to scramble after him. He wrote checks to pay his bills. He wrote and spoke with his mother and wife constantly. He was not a good speaker, but he was clear, concise, succinct and plain-spoken. He liked to make decisions, and he made them fast. Much of what is here is fairly well-known, but Baime has access to newly released documents, and combs through obscure newspaper accounts for added detail. Two major things: the beginnings of conflict with the USSR, and the decision to drop the bomb. The Russians had already started breaking the Yalta accords, specifically about Poland, before FDR’s death. That accelerated. Truman was very nervous about the Potsdam meetings---the failed haberdasher from Missouri negotiating with two titans, Churchill and Stalin. He more than held his own, and talked bluntly with the Russians in ways they were not accustomed to hearing. He did get one important promise: the USSR would go to war with Japan on Aug. 15. Finally, it became clear that the USSR would never permit free societies in its orbit, and wanted to keep expanding. So while there was not yet an open break, it was visible on the horizon. As for the bomb: Truman had no idea it was being planning until days after his inauguration. But he picked up what it might mean very quickly. He delayed the Potsdam conference (against Churchill’s wishes) until after the test that showed the bomb worked. Using meeting minutes and later memoirs, Baime describes in great detail the debate over how and whether to use it. There was a letter from a group of distinguished scientists urging against its use, but Truman never saw the letter. They considered giving a demonstration, but decided that was not a good idea. Truman wanted to make sure the bomb was used before the Soviets got into the war (turns out, when the second bomb was dropped, on Nagasaki, on Aug. 6; they broke their own timetable and invaded Manchuria on Aug. 8). By the time the war ended, Truman was one of the most popular presidents in the history of the United States. Baime makes the argument that he was in fact, heroic. Solid book, but those little annoying editing errors keep popping up. For example, in describing the cruiser USS Augusta, he says “its beam [rises] 66 feet.” Beam is a measure of width, not height. (fwiw, Baime is an executive editor at Playboy.)

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