Review by Sanford Levinson
It ought to be a truth universally acknowledged that no one capable of being elected President of the United States is uninteresting. For many persons, Calvin Coolidge, America’s 30th President, tests that proposition. The one-word title of this very interesting biography by Amity Shlaes is appropriate, for Coolidge was famous for his terseness, captured in the famous story of the woman who, upon telling Coolidge that she had bet that she could get him to say three words, heard in reply, “You lose.” But there was far more to Coolidge that this idiosyncratic desire for brevity.
No one without ambition and self-regard becomes President. The initial accession to the presidency on the death of Warren Harding might have been an “accident,” but Coolidge’s place in the line of succession was not. Shlaes describes his methodical rise to national prominence. As Governor of Massachusetts in 1919, he electrified the country in 1919 by refusing to submit to the (just) demands of the Boston police force during an understandably controversial strike by stating that “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anyone, anywhere, any time.” He clearly hoped to be named as the Republican candidate for the presidency should the early favorites not be able to procure sufficient votes at the convention. (This was, of course, well before popular primaries made national conventions superfluous.) Instead Harding got the nod, after twelve ballots, and the Convention in effect insisted that Coolidge serve as his running mate.
Shlaes, an unabashed admirer of Coolidge, shares his philosophy of minimalist government. “It is much more important,” he said, “to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” and from his perspective, most of what Congress desired to do, especially if it involved spending public money, was bad. He was almost fanatically devoted to cutting public spending, and this was mixed with what most people today would describe as a remarkably restricted notion of the role of the national government. He adamantly refused, for example, to visit the Mississippi Valley after the disastrous floods of 1927 or to support any serious program of disaster relief, a posture that he repeated when his own beloved New England was the victim of its own disastrous flooding the following year. He had no use for “progressives,” including, for that matter, his successor, Herbert Hoover, whom he regarded as dangerously interventionist with regard to the economy. (Coolidge had little doubt that a crash was coming because of the over-valuation of stocks, but he thought that government could do nothing to stop it.)
Ronald Reagan famously replaced photographs of John Adams and Theodore Roosevelt with one of Calvin Coolidge. But Reagan notably signed eleven tax increases during his eight years in office, and the federal debt more than tripled. However, had Mitt Romney (and Paul Ryan) been elected, the return of Coolidge’s portrait would have been altogether appropriate. It is Shlaes accomplishment not only to make Coolidge and his administration genuinely interesting, whether or not one shares her views, but also to understand why he remains relevant, at least for some, even almost a century later.
Hardcover Book : 576 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers ( February 12, 2013 )
Item #: 13-606085
Product Dimensions: 6.0 x 9.0 x 1.44inches
Product Weight: 26.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
I did not think Amity Shlaes could write a book that I would like more than The Forgotten Man, but she has.
The quiet wisdom and strength of character of Coolidge shine through this book.
Coolidge governed effectively and did so without appeasing special interests. One proof of this that most historians have ignored him because he succeded in doing it his way, and not by taking the side of activist government supplanting the rights and responsibilities of the people.
No one that really has read this book would give it one star.
It really is childish of someone to do such a thing. I don't know why BOMC does not mind publish phony reviews. Don't they want to sell the book?
Reviewer: Joe B
The author gives me the impression that she wrote this book for a political agenda instead of dealing with Coolidge in human basis and his personal life. I am really disappointed in this book because it is very dull.
Reviewer: Woodrow R
This is a largely hagiographic account of a president who did nothing in particular and did it very well The author rationalizes Coolidge's approach to governing. I purchased it primarily because my mother's family was from Northampton and the two families crossed paths over the generations.
Reviewer: Thomas M