Morton Library hosts Accidental Presidents book talk with Jigsaw CEO Jared Cohen

Jared Cohen’s interest in unexpected transfers of power began during his childhood when he read the late Staatsburg author/illustrator Alice Provensen’s The Buck Stops Here, a book about US presidents. (Esther Nisanova)

Jared Cohen was still in his early 20s when he was recruited by the US State Department in 2006 to bring new ideas to its Policy Planning Staff. His main claim to fame while serving as an advisor to Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton was shepherding in the use of social media as a tool for diplomacy. After that success he became the chief executive of Google Ideas, retaining that post when that incubator morphed into Jigsaw at Alphabet, Inc. He made Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List in 2013 and is still an adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Cohen’s also a history nerd, with a special interest in unexpected transfers of power acquired from the late Staatsburg author/illustrator Alice Provensen’s The Buck Stops Here, a book about US presidents that he read as a child. His new book, Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, traces the circumstances that brought John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson to power, and what those abrupt changes meant for American history. The author will be giving a reading and talk based on Accidental Presidents at the Morton Memorial Library on Tuesday, August 13.


Of these seismic shifts in presidential power, the one with the most far-reaching effects was Andrew Johnson’s accession following the Lincoln assassination – in particular his reversal of Lincoln’s plans to provide reparations for freed slaves. “The victory in the Civil War gave the country an enormous opportunity that was completely squandered, and we’re still paying a price for it today,” Cohen said in an April Guardian interview. He’s a fan of Teddy Roosevelt, but thinks he was too “irresponsible” to have made a good wartime president. And when pressed on the question of how Mike Pence would fare if Donald Trump should be impeached, or removed from office due to disability via the 25th Amendment, Cohen compared him to “Silent Cal” Coolidge, who maintained plausible deniability during the scandal-ridden Harding administration by avoiding meetings where he knew potentially dicey topics would be discussed.

Intrigued? Learn more on Tuesday evening at the Morton Library, located at 82 Kelly Street in Rhinecliff. The presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.

Accidental Presidents book talk, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 6:30 p.m., Free, Morton Memorial Library, 82 Kelly St., Rhinecliff, (845) 876-2903,