Amity Shlaes, author of The Forgotten Man, delivers a brilliant and provocative reexamination of America’s thirtieth president, Calvin Coolidge, and the decade of unparalleled growth that the nation enjoyed under his leadership. In this riveting biography, Shlaes traces Coolidge’s 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 women’s 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.
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.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Wonderful insight into a lesser known President
Sometimes, all that is needed is honest management and little interference by the government.
Amity Shales has produced a biography that must be even more boring than her subject was reputed to be, sad to say. Coolidge's personality notwithstanding, there was plenty occurring during his lifetime, and especially his presidency, to keep a reader interested, but Ms. Shays dismisses any chance of that happening early and often.
In short, I've read many of the presidential biographies published in recent years and this is, by far, the most poorly written. I mean, for example, what writer with experience beyond the sixth grade would use the awkward verb phrase "had had" and not just once.
Ms. Shales may be a dogged researcher but the result here is no detail is too trivial to be omitted while the social headlines that paralleled Coolidge's presidency, The Roaring Twenties, is never mentioned.
A pathetic waste of money.