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Americans have long been defined by how they face adversity. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in how the nation’s chief executive has tackled myriad issues upon entering the White House. The ways that U.S. presidents handle the vast responsibilities of the Oval Office determine the fate of the nation---and, in many cases, the fate of the world.

In this fascinating narrative, presidential historian Mark Updegrove looks at eight U.S. presidents who inherited unprecedented crises immediately upon assuming the reigns of power. George Washington led a fragile and fledgling nation while defining the very role of the presidency. When Thomas Jefferson entered the White House, he faced a nation bitterly divided by a two-party schism far more severe than anything encountered today. John Tyler stepped into the office of the presidency during the constitutional crisis left by the first death of a sitting president. Abraham Lincoln inherited a divided nation on the brink of war. Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to quell America’s fears during the depths of the Great Depression. His successor, Harry S. Truman, was sworn in as commander in chief at the close of World War II, and John F. Kennedy stepped into the increasingly heated atmosphere of the cold war. In the wake of Watergate, the first unelected president, Gerald R. Ford, aimed to end America’s “long national nightmare.”

As the forty-fourth president takes office, Updegrove presents a timely look at these chief executives and the challenges they faced. In examining the ways in which presidents have addressed crises, Baptism by Fire illustrates the importance of character in leadership—and in the resilience of America itself. 

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