One of the things I love about reading good history, especially Presidential biographies, is that the exercise helps me gain a clearer perspective on the world today. The Accidental President by A. J. Baime accomplished that task nicely. We make so much of F.D.R., but we rarely remember the man whose leadership so profoundly shaped our place in the world. His name was Harry S. Truman, and no one ever dreamed that he would be the President of the United States, including the man himself.
This biography isn’t typical. It only covers the first four months of Truman’s presidency. After you read the book, you will understand why. Reluctantly launched into the presidency, Truman faced incredible challenges and made world-altering decisions.
He entered the scene as the war in Europe ended, the United Nations was forming, war criminals in Germany were preparing for trial, and the war in Asia with Japan was ragging uncontrollably. A relative newcomer on the scene, he was thrust into global politics with the likes of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin.
He also entered the scene as America was shifting quickly into its role as the global superpower with all the responsibilities and threats that came with it. And looming in the background was the development of a bomb that would change the world forever. Would he use it?
One of the things I came to admire about Truman as I read Baime’s biography was his decisive decision-making capabilities. He didn’t always make the right choice, but he made decisions. He made them fast too. After F.D.R., Truman’s style shocked people everywhere. But, I think his style served him well.
As a newcomer and someone thought of as an accidental president, being overly contemplative and slow to make decisions would have hindered his leadership ability. That same leadership ability enabled him to chair the Potsdam conferences with Churchill and Stalin, as Churchill was fading politically, and Stalin was becoming a bigger threat than anyone imagined.
So, if you want to gain a greater appreciation of the four months that resulted in the start of the cold war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, along with the destruction of two Japanese cities, I highly recommend The Accidental President. Enjoy. And if you read it, come back here and leave a comment to tell me what you thought about it.
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