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Coolidgeby Amity Shlaes
Synopses & Reviews
Calvin Coolidge, who served as president from 1923 to 1929, never rated highly in polls. The shy Vermonter, nicknamed "Silent Cal," has long been dismissed as quiet and passive. History has remembered the decade in which he served as a frivolous, extravagant period predating the Great Depression. Now Amity Shlaes, the author known for her riveting, unexpected portrait of the 1930s, provides a similarly fresh look at the 1920s and its elusive president. Shlaesshows that the mid-1920s was, in fact, a triumphant period that established our modern way of life: the nation electrified, Americans drove their first cars, and the federal deficit was replaced with a surplus. Coolidge is an eye-opening biography of the little-known president behind that era of remarkable growth and national optimism.
Although Coolidge was sometimes considered old-fashioned, he was the most modern of presidents, advancing not only the automobile trade but also aviation, through his spirited support of Charles Lindbergh. Coolidge's discipline and composure, Shlaes reveals, represented not weakness but strength. First as governor of Massachusetts then as president, Coolidge proved unafraid to take on the divisive issues of this crucial period: reining in public-sector unions, unrelentingly curtailing spending, and rejecting funding for new interest groups.
Perhaps more than any other president, Coolidge understood that doing less could yield more. He reduced the federal budget during his time in office even as the economy grew, wages rose, tax rates fell, and unemployment dropped. As a husband, father, and citizen, the thirtieth president made an equally firm commitment to moderation, shunning lavish parties and special presidential treatment; to him the presidency was not a bully pulpit but a place for humble service. Overcoming private tragedy while in office, including the death of a son, Coolidge showed the nation how to persevere by persevering himself. For a nation looking for a steady hand, he was a welcome pilot.
In this illuminating, magisterial biography, AmityShlaes finally captures the remarkable story of Calvin Coolidge and the decade of extraordinary prosperity that grew from his leadership.
"Reading perceived weaknesses as strengths and persistent setbacks as evidence of perseverance, journalist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) glowingly portrays Coolidge as an unappreciated economic hero. Born in Vermont in 1872, Coolidge studied law in Northampton, Mass., married schoolteacher Grace Goodhue, and doggedly climbed the Republican political ladder. From governor of Massachusetts to vice president and then president of the United States, Coolidge distanced himself from the progressive elements of his party; he championed low taxes, small government, and commerce as the foundations of prosperity. Shlaes writes with crisp, engaging prose, and her keen eye for detail is rooted in a solid collection of source material. But the story's unrelenting linear trajectory bounces between such disparate topics as tax policies, maple syrup, and aviation with little indication of the degree of importance. Shlaes's reluctance to critically analyze Coolidge's political policies and actions is especially evident in her avoidance of delving into what Coolidge may have known about the Harding scandals and about weaknesses in the economy. Shlaes successfully shows, through clear explanations of Coolidge's fiscal policies, why modern-day conservatives should consider him an economic hero, but she fails to illuminate what it meant for all Americans to Keep Cool with Coolidge during the complex 1920s. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agents: Sarah Chalfant, Scott Moyers, Adam Eaglin, and Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man, delivers a brilliant and provocative reexamination of Americas thirtieth president, Calvin Coolidge, and the decade of unparalleled growth that the nation enjoyed under his leadership. In this riveting biography, Shlaes traces Coolidges improbable rise from a tiny town in New England to a youth so unpopular he was shut out of college fraternities at Amherst College up through Massachusetts politics. After a divisive period of government excess and corruption, Coolidge restored national trust in Washington and achieved what few other peacetime presidents have: He left office with a federal budget smaller than the one he inherited. A man of calm discipline, he lived by example, renting half of a two-family house for his entire political career rather than compromise his political work by taking on debt. Renowned as a throwback, Coolidge was in fact strikingly modern—an advocate of womens suffrage and a radio pioneer. At once a revision of man and economics, Coolidge gestures to the country we once were and reminds us of qualities we had forgotten and can use today.
About the Author
Amity Shlaes is a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations and a syndicated columnist at Bloomberg. She has written for The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, where she was an editorial board member, as well as for The New Yorker, Fortune, National Review, The New Republic, and Foreign Affairs. Shlaes is the author of The Greedy Hand. She lives in New York.
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