Chris Wallace, anchor of Fox News Sunday, has a new book out that is nonfiction, but one he hopes reads like a novel. Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World is “a deep dive on a key moment in history,” according to Wallace. “ I was going to take a very precise period of time and delve into the characters, the anecdotes, what they were wearing, almost make it like a novel. All true, absolutely solidly researched, but it would have the feel of an adventure story. ”
The idea came, in part, from Nancy Pelosi. It was February 2019, and the Speaker of the House invited a handful of reporters, Wallace included, to the Capitol to hear her comments on President Donald Trump’s pending State of the Union address. Pelosi hosted the reporters in an ornate room called the Board of Education that Wallace described as a “secret hideaway” for former speaker Sam Rayburn.
Pelosi shared a story about Harry Truman, then the vice president, getting a call in that room that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had died. Truman hung up the phone and exclaimed, “Jesus Christ and General Jackson!”
“I thought, I got it!” said Wallace. “That’s the first chapter of the book.”
Countdown 1945 looks at the 116 days between Truman stepping into the president’s role and dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
While it’s set 75 years ago, Wallace said some aspects of the book are timely. For one, Trump has likened the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine to the Manhattan Project, which gave birth to the atomic bomb. Second, the book is a close-up on what Wallace termed “presidential decision-making,” which we witness daily during these newsy times.
“One of the things that impressed me is how careful and precise Truman was in making what may have been the biggest decision any president ever had to make, to drop a nuclear bomb on a major city,” he said.
Wallace has been hosting Fox News Sunday from his home. He misses the face-to-face interviews he did before the pandemic hit. “I’d much rather be in a studio with a guest, but compared to the problems a lot of people have, this is very minor,” he said.
Wallace had a memorable sit-down with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki a couple years ago. The anchor and his wife had planned a trip to Russia, so she came along to Finland. The Wallaces chatted with Putin after the interview, and mentioned they were headed to Russia. Wallace described the Russian president as “a little less steely” off-camera. “He was chatty and very pleasant to my wife. It was brief and then he was on his way.”
Wallace did not sense anyone tailing him in Russia, but mentioned going into a restaurant bathroom and seeing a hulking guy standing in there, looking back at him. “I thought to myself, this guy is gonna attack me,” Wallace said with a laugh, adding that he played scenes from Mission: Impossible in his mind. “He washed his hands and left, but I did have a vivid imagination for about 30 seconds.”
At 72, Wallace said he doesn’t call up the lessons his father, famed newsman Mike Wallace, taught him much anymore. But there are some family trademarks he’s proud to carry on.
“Hard work, preparation, really meticulous research,” he said. “I think that’s the Wallace tradition and I try to uphold it.”
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