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

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

  • Jill Meyer

    It is 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 l

    It is 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.

  • 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.

  • Bigmg

    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.

  • Steve

    The first book I can recall about reading about Harry Truman, And so far the best book I have read on the subject matter. Harry Truman was the Vice President of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman took over the office of President of the United States when Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia. Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency during the last four months of World War II and had big shoes to fill. the final events of World War II was the fall of Berlin on April 29, 1945, whe

    The first book I can recall about reading about Harry Truman, And so far the best book I have read on the subject matter. Harry Truman was the Vice President of Franklin Roosevelt, Truman took over the office of President of the United States when Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia. Harry Truman was thrust into the presidency during the last four months of World War II and had big shoes to fill. the final events of World War II was the fall of Berlin on April 29, 1945, when Soviet, British, and American troops invaded the city and the next day Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker. Despite the war in Europe ended when Germany surrendered on May 7, The Pacific War was still raging. Harry Truman made the decision to use the atomic bomb. On August 6, 1945, The United States dropped the Little Boy on Hiroshima, Japan. Days later on August 9, 1945, The Fat Man was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. The destruction and deaths on both of these cities forced the Japanese to surrender on August 14 and the terms of surrender were signed on September 2, 1945 on the deck of the U.S. battleship, USS Missouri at Tokyo Bay ending World War II. Truman grew up in rural Missouri and served as a captain in the United States Army during World War I and commanded Company D. Interesting side note: On November 11, 1918, World War I ended. While more than 5 million Allied soldiers were killed, including roughly 117,000 Americans, Truman's Battery D never lost a single man.

  • John Plowright

    Albert Baime’s ‘The Accidental President’ is a portrait of Truman during the first four months of his administration, from FDR’s death on 12 April 1945 until 14 August 1945, when Japan’s surrender was made public.

    The book is dedicated to the author’s father “who … kept a portrait of Harry S. Truman on his office wall for more than forty years”, and it is soon evident that the younger Baime shares his father’s admiration of the 33rd President.

    There is, it has to be said, a great deal to admire a

    Albert Baime’s ‘The Accidental President’ is a portrait of Truman during the first four months of his administration, from FDR’s death on 12 April 1945 until 14 August 1945, when Japan’s surrender was made public.

    The book is dedicated to the author’s father “who … kept a portrait of Harry S. Truman on his office wall for more than forty years”, and it is soon evident that the younger Baime shares his father’s admiration of the 33rd President.

    There is, it has to be said, a great deal to admire about Truman as man and politician but although Baime acknowledges that opinion regarding his period in office is deeply polarized he gives very short shrift to any contemporary (such as Admiral Leahy) or any historian who has the temerity to be at all critical of his hero.

    This is most obvious in relation to Truman’s most controversial decision, to drop the Bomb on Hiroshima, with Baime aligning himself with those historians like Alonzo Hamby, Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, who regard the decision as wholly warranted on military grounds, and rejecting those historians like Gar Alperovitz who regard the decision as motivated as much by the desire to exercise leverage against the Soviets as to force Japan’s surrender. ‘Ignoring’ might actually be a better word than ‘rejecting’: Alperovitz’s sole formal appearance in the book is tucked away in one of its 358 footnotes, and then only as the source of a quotation from Joseph Grew.

    Moreover, Baime’s arguments are sometimes weak. He tells the reader, for example, that “almost every advisor to Truman recommended the bomb’s use at the time”. Even if this were true (and I would contend that it ignores, for example, those nuclear scientists who were denied the opportunity to express their doubts directly to Truman), it wouldn’t validate his decision. The crucifixion of Jesus was almost universally applauded at the time but that doesn't make it right.

    But if Baume’s book lacks balance and nuance, its 134,000 words read very well and present an appealing account of Truman as an individual. The book certainly has narrative pace and a strong thesis, the only problem is that, in my opinion, that thesis in relation to Hiroshima is an untenable one.

  • Italo Italophiles

    This is a popularized history book about Harry Truman and the tumultuous first four months of his presidency. There was a lot more about Truman's history than I expected, stopping in its tracks the story of the first four months, but the background was helpful to get a measure of the man.

    Truman, a self-educated man who grew up in poverty, had some redeeming characteristics, such as his work ethic and his respect for knowledge and fact: “There is no substitute for a fact. When the facts are know

    This is a popularized history book about Harry Truman and the tumultuous first four months of his presidency. There was a lot more about Truman's history than I expected, stopping in its tracks the story of the first four months, but the background was helpful to get a measure of the man.

    Truman, a self-educated man who grew up in poverty, had some redeeming characteristics, such as his work ethic and his respect for knowledge and fact: “There is no substitute for a fact. When the facts are known, reasonable men do not disagree with respect to them.”

    He was also a white supremacist, with an all-out racist, Confederate-loving mother who was like Granny Clampet to the nth degree, two points treated too lightly in the book. The author admires Truman too much to be objective on other issues too, presenting in the end an uncritical elegy to Truman.

    I grew skeptical of the book when I started noticing factual errors, for example Alonzo Fields was from Indiana not Missouri, John Adams was the first president to live in the White House not George Washington. I'm not a historian, so the few errors I noticed made me think that there might be a whole lot more.

    The book is gossipy, readable, uncritical, full of trivia and snapshots of fascinating characters from history, but not as authoritative as I'd hoped. I received a review copy; this is my honest review.

  • Jean Poulos

    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.

  • Terri Wangard

    I like Harry. This is a great story focusing primarily on the four months between his ascendency to the presidency and the end of the war. His earlier life is covered, though, with particular attention to his brief tenure as vice president. He knew when he met with the obviously ailing FDR that he would not remain the vice president for long.

    I like Harry. This is a great story focusing primarily on the four months between his ascendency to the presidency and the end of the war. His earlier life is covered, though, with particular attention to his brief tenure as vice president. He knew when he met with the obviously ailing FDR that he would not remain the vice president for long.

  • Brian Williams

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a readable account of the initial several months of the Truman presidency, from April 1945 through to the Japanese surrender in September 1945. It’s scholarly without being stuffy.

    The first chapter details President Roosevelt’s failing health and his last day alive, April 12, 1945. Truman is promptly brought to the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt tells him of FDR’s death. Shortly thereafter he is sworn in as president. The next chapter is the obligatory m

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a readable account of the initial several months of the Truman presidency, from April 1945 through to the Japanese surrender in September 1945. It’s scholarly without being stuffy.

    The first chapter details President Roosevelt’s failing health and his last day alive, April 12, 1945. Truman is promptly brought to the White House where Eleanor Roosevelt tells him of FDR’s death. Shortly thereafter he is sworn in as president. The next chapter is the obligatory mini-biography which recounts Truman’s early life and how he came to be Vice-President in the 1944 election. He was never part of FDR’s inner circle and was essentially ignored by FDR after he assumed the vice-presidency. He was blissfully ignorant of what was going on when he took on the presidency. He faced a steep learning curve – it was almost perpendicular—but he quickly found his footing. One needs to really give him a lot of credit.

    After the book’s introductory chapters, readers follow Truman’s progress as he learns the challenges of the job and the problems facing the nation (and the world). The author tells the story in a straightforward way, chronologically, month-by-month. The major events include the closure of the war in Europe, the Potsdam Conference, the machinations over ending war with Japan and most importantly, the development of the atomic bomb. The author relies on original sources such as letters, minutes from meetings, official reports and so on to advance the story (there’s extensive end notes citing his sources).

    Highly recommended for students of US history and geopolitics.

    I receive a copy of the book through Netgalley in exchange for an objective review.

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