Book Review: “The Accidental President”

The book examines the first four months of the Harry Truman’s presidency.

I’m from Missouri and as a kid, I knew that President Harry Truman came from my state. I also knew that Independence, Missouri was put on the national map because of him and that Harry Truman had given the order for use of the atomic bomb.

But somehow, the rest of the Harry Truman story had escaped me. I was recently brought up to speed by A.J Baime’s fascinating book, The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months that Changed the World.

For instance, I never knew that Harry Truman did not have a college education, that the Truman family farm went into foreclosure and that Truman and a partner’s haberdashery business had failed as well. When Harry and Bess Truman moved into the White House, they had never owned a home of their own. (And Bess Truman NEVER wanted to be “First Lady”.)

Unlikely? Absolutely.

How did Harry Truman get to the White House? A political fixer in Missouri, Democrat Tom Prendergast, had a son who served with Harry in the U.S. Army in Europe. When Prendergast was searching for candidates for a local election of judges, he chose Harry Truman and assured his election and re-election. Later, when the Democratic Party needed a candidate for the senate, Prendergast’s influence again held sway and Truman was nominated and elected “under dubious circumstances”.

However, Truman made his name in the Senate as founder of a committee that diligently investigated waste and corruption in the national defense effort. Later, according to the book, Truman became Roosevelt’s Vice President almost as a fluke. Initially he was favored by only two percent of the delegates attending the 1944 Democratic convention. Roosevelt’s former Vice President, Henry Wallace. was not liked by some at the convention and ultimately lost his bid for re-nomination. Roosevelt then went on to win the election. Harry Truman became Vice President, and nine months later, President Roosevelt died.

The first four months of Harry Truman’s presidency were probably the worst four months any new President has faced. Today the presidency is all about Covid, immigration, Ukraine and spending. When Truman arrived at the White House, the war in Europe was coming to an end and serious Cold War disagreements began about territories to be divided. Additionally, parts of Europe were starving. And the war with Japan was ongoing.

I found this book and the times fascinating. The author concentrates on Truman’s first four months in office and shows him to be a man who was competent and decent and who listened to the experts around him (in contrast, says the book, to Roosevelt who often did most of the talking in meetings with his cabinet).

If you are a bit rusty on your history involving Harry Truman, I recommend this book. I initially read the book electronically, but liked it so much and wanted to share it that I ordered the paperback on Amazon. Harry Truman and his times were very interesting.


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