Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America

Jared Cohen. Simon & Schuster, $30 (576p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0982-9
Cohen (One Hundred Days of Silence) explores the power transitions of eight U.S. vice presidents who took over the presidency upon the deaths of their predecessors in this entertaining but clunky history. Positing that “the matter of succession has been trivialized by voters, candidates, and lawmakers,” Cohen presents brief, confidently told narratives of each transition (Teddy Roosevelt’s reelection, for instance, “represented a glorious triumph for a man who believed he was destined to be president”). After a final chapter listing various near deaths of other presidents, Cohen concludes that the extant process for selecting vice-presidential candidates and integrating them into an administration’s day-to-day business needs improvement, perhaps by requiring v-p candidates to have previously run for president or to have been selected not by campaign teams but party committees. Anecdotes (in 1844, a ship hosting a party of dignitaries, including President Tyler, suffered an explosion when demonstrating its gunpower, killing and maiming many guests) and overdoses of contextual details too often take precedence over the ostensible analytical focus. That said, the pacing is brisk, the writing is clear and engaging, and Cohen’s characterizations of the presidents are mostly vivid. But the conclusions he draws feel slight. This colorful, occasionally amusing, but somewhat shaggy book may strike readers of history as lacking in urgency. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 02/19/2019
Release date: 04/09/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-5082-5275-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-5082-6418-7
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