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

Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2017. 448p. notes. index. ISBN 9780544617346. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780544618480. BIOG
OrangeReviewStarBaime (Arsenal of Democracy) examines the harrowing first few months of Harry Truman's (1884-1972) unexpected first term in office after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945. In highlighting their stark differences, Baime describes Roosevelt as representing the people while Truman was the people. The author begins with Truman's background as a farmer and former haberdasher from Missouri, then demonstrates how the president was viewed as ordinary and unqualified for the position. In four months, Truman would chair the Potsdam Conference; help create the United Nations; sign the London Agreement, setting the stage for the Nuremberg Trials; and lead Germany and Japan to surrender at the end of World War II. By relying mostly on primary sources, Baime allows for a better perspective of Truman, in which his political decisions are equally as significant as the correspondence with his beloved wife, daughter, and mother. He also adeptly manages to include nuanced U.S.-Russia relations and East Asian diplomacy.
VERDICT Those seeking an all-encompassing biography of Truman before he took office and after World War II should seek out David McCullough's Truman. However, Baime's spotlight on an influential segment of the 21st century and the man who saw the country through it will be appreciated by most readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/17/17.]

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