SOCIAL SCIENCES

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America

S. & S. Apr. 2019. 528p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781501109829. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781501109843. BIOG
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Cohen (founder & CEO, Jigsaw at Google's Alphabet, Inc.; One Hundred Days of Silence) offers a fluidly written work on eight U.S. vice presidents who unexpectedly became chief executives. Assassinations of their predecessors installed Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson in the White House, while fatal presidential illnesses ushered in John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry Truman. What the book does well is describe characteristics and criteria that should influence the selection. Among these are previous experiences as vetted presidential candidates or elected executives rather than their potential to carry states electorally. The book is less valuable as a primary source. Misstatements include referring to 24-year-old Julia Tyler as the youngest First Lady, neglecting Frances Cleveland holding that title at age 21, and citing Henry Morgenthau Jr. as the first Jewish cabinet member instead of Oscar Straus. Cohen also engages in counterfactuals, especially regarding unsuccessful assassination plots. Though he includes the attempt in Palm Beach, FL, against John F. Kennedy in December 1960, he leaves out a threat against Richard Nixon in February 1974.
VERDICT This provocative and timely introductory book for concerned readers during another presidential election cycle might spark additional historical sleuthing.

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