Seven Days In May, Fletcher Knebel and Charles W Bailey II, Harper and Row, 1962, 341 pp
Summary from Goodreads: "Gentleman Jim" Scott was a brilliant magnetic general. Like a lot of people, he believed the President was ruining the country. Unlike anyone else, he had the power to do something about it, something unprecedented and terrifying. Colonel "Jiggs" Casey was the marine who accidentally stumbled onto the plot. At first he refused to believe it; then he risked his life and career to inform the President. Jordan Lyman was President of the United States. By the time he was finally able to convince himself of the appalling truth, he had only seven days left to stop a brilliant, seemingly irresistible military plot to seize control of the government of the United States.
This was the #7 bestseller in 1962. I wasn't expecting much but it was great. A political thriller inspired by Cold War fears and possibly based on an actual incident.
For some reason I couldn't fathom, the authors (both news men in their day jobs) set the book in the early 1970s. That really dates it because the early 70s were not much like the way they were portrayed in the book.
The fictional President of the United States, fairly new in office, has managed to put together a disarmament agreement with the USSR intended to put an end to nuclear weapons. His popularity is at an all-time low in the polls. In contrast, that of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has soared. Even though the legislative branches have ratified the treaty, the American people and much of the military are afraid and doubtful that the Soviets will stick to the agreements, and expect WWIII will break out at any moment.
This Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman is organizing a military coup! The President gets wind of it and has seven days to stop it. Imagine, just imagine, if our military were running the country; something that has happened many times the world over, including at different times in the Roman Empire.
Once all the characters were in place ( and I had done my study of what and who the Joint Chiefs of Staff are), the story took off and was exciting, full of tension, and quite convincing.
High points for me:
1. Understanding the conflicts between the military and the Federal government.
2. The power of a President who actually believes in the Constitution and has the overall welfare of the citizens he governs as his prime concern.
3. The absolute agreement to follow orders, no matter what, in the military mindset.
This novel is quite relevant to today's concerns. I think most US citizens, of any political party, would do well to read it. It is a complement to that other 1962 bestseller, Fail-Safe. It has been enlightening to read both of these novels and then Voices From Chernobyl within a few months of each other. The novels demonstrate how much nuclear weapons were feared in the 1960s. Voices From Chernobyl shows how much our fear of nuclear power has receded into the background.
There is a movie. I will be watching it.
(Seven Days in May appears to be out of print currently. It is available in libraries and from used book sellers.)