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97 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only a Beginning. . .
How interesting that as we look at the last century, President Coolidge has become a polarizing figure. After smears from William Allan White, Arthur Schlesinger and others, Coolidge has finally merited re-evaluation. While not an activist President in the vein of, say, Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge was far from indolent or passive. He gave more press conferences than...
Published on July 19, 2004 by JK

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Increased understanding of Calvin Coolidge
Often rather shallow in giving reasons for Coolidge's lack of action but very insightful in his character and approach to issues and his peers. Sobel shows how there was much more depth Coolidge than the stereotyped ' silent Cal'. A good read!
Published 16 months ago by Don Kornrumpf


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97 of 101 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only a Beginning. . ., July 19, 2004
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This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
How interesting that as we look at the last century, President Coolidge has become a polarizing figure. After smears from William Allan White, Arthur Schlesinger and others, Coolidge has finally merited re-evaluation. While not an activist President in the vein of, say, Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge was far from indolent or passive. He gave more press conferences than any other, inaugurated the use of radio, and sponsored airplanes in the military. However, it was indeed his belief that government should exist for the people, not the other way 'round. Interestingly, he was the last President to refuse to have a telephone in the Oval Office--he considered it undignified. He supported women's suffrage and his wife, Grace, was the first First Lady to smoke in the White House. I have undertaken to read many accounts of Coolidge; he does remain a mystery to us in so many ways. Regardless of the slant of the source, though, his deep sense of decency and honor in performing public service always shines through. I'd recommend purchasing a copy of 'Grace Coolidge and Her Era' from 1962 to give a more human side to both the President and his wife. Another characteristic of this man is that despite his reserve, his overriding love for his wife and sons remains there. The heartbreak that he and Mrs. Coolidge endured with the needless death of their youngest son in the White House cannot be overstated. Especially since we know now that the Staph. infection from which young Calvin died would nowadays have certainly not been fatal. I think part of the reason the Coolidge times have become fascinating for those of us interested in history is the obscurity to which these years have been consigned. The terms of FDR with his extensive radio and movie coverage has overshown the previous three Republican administrations, not by accident. I have concluded that no one book can cover all the aspects of President Coolidge, and he deserves further reading.
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent study of "Silent Cal" and the "Roaring 20s"..., September 29, 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
Calvin Coolidge, who served as President from 1923-1929, has long been rated as a "poor" President by liberal historians and academics who fault him for his seemingly passive, quiet, and inactive approach to the Presidency. In this first-rate biography, Mr. Sobel shows us just how wrong those judgments are. Far from being a "Silent" or "Lazy" President, Coolidge ran a remarkably honest and efficient administration that led America through one of the most exciting and prosperous decades in American history - the "Roaring Twenties".

As Sobel demonstrates, Coolidge was born and raised in an environment - rural and isolated - which the great majority of Americans today would find alien. He grew up in the tiny rural village of Plymouth, Vermont. His beloved mother died when he was young and he was raised by his father, a classic "pillar of the community" type - his father was serious, sober, religious, a prosperous farmer and general-store owner, and a local politician who served as a justice of the peace, constable, and Vermont state legislator. Coolidge grew up to be an equally serious-minded and self-reliant young man - a modern Puritan, without the hypocrisy or self-righteous attitude. Like Truman, much of Coolidge's life seemed utterly ordinary, and he was an unlikely President. A competent lawyer in Northampton, Massachusetts, Calvin married Grace Goodhue and had a happy marriage, fathered two sons (to whom he was devoted), and slowly but steadily climbed the political ladder. Unlike many modern politicians who want to start off with a major office (such as Senator or Governor) and then immediately try to run for President, Coolidge spent many years in local and state politics before he became a "big-time" politician - a fact which probably accounted for his success as President. He served as a city councilman, Mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts state legislator, Speaker of the Massachusetts State Assembly, Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and finally Vice-President and President. During his long climb Coolidge was never dramatic or spectacular, but he was intelligent, efficient, honest, reliable, and a good speaker. People seemed to like and trust him wherever he went, and his dry yet biting wit, and his quiet and reserved personality became legendary (in one famous story, Coolidge went to a party and said nothing. The hostess, desperate, approached him and said "Mr. President, I made a bet with my friend over there that I could get at least 3 words out of you tonight". Coolidge's reply: "You lose").

What this biography does is to give the reader a much better appreciation for the man, and Sobel convincingly demonstrates that the great economic boom of the 1920's was not merely a fluke, but the direct result of Coolidge's shrewd business sense and leadership. Anyone who continues to rate Coolidge as a poor President should be required to read this book and refute Sobel's persuasive arguments. To sum up, this is a first-rate book about a much-neglected President, and it should be read by all political and presidential history buffs.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Long Overdue Work of... History., June 28, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
This is an excellent Biography of a President that Americans ought to know more about than they do. Beyond that Robert Sobel presents a portrait of a Statesman of High moral character and unimpeachable integrity that is seldom encountered in life, Much less at the summit of political life Professor Sobel is an economic Historian, Consequently He devotes a considerable part of the Book to a discussion of Coolidge's controversial economic policies which rank among the most sucessful in modern times. Consider that Coolidge was President for five years and in every one of those years the U.S. government had a balanced budget with a surplus which was returned to the taxpayers in the form of a tax cut,And that government spending progressively declined over this same period. And all this was done during an unprecedented economic boom.Now liberal Historians like Arthur Schlesinger Jr.whom Sobel gloriously debunks,would argue that ''Coolidge prosperity'' was a ''false prosperity'' which ultimately led to the stock market crash of 1929 and the great depression. Sobel makes a strong case that the prosperity of the twenties was a genuine economic revival based on sound free market principles.Professor Sobel strongly refutes the conventional wisdom that Coolidge was blissfully ignorant of the danger to the economy posed by an unregulated stock market.In fact He clearly saw the danger.But in His Jeffersonian view of the Constitution He believed that federal legislation was unconstitutional.In Coolidge's the regulation of business was the province of the states. This book is not as detailed as it might be. But on the whole it is an excellent biography of an honorable Statesman and a fine moral example. You may expect that this book will be attacked by the liberal establishment as revisionist History...And long overdue!
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, Coolidge gets a fair shake!, November 2, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
The few bad reviews I've seen on this book call attention to Sobel's use of secondary sources: I'm not sure that Sobel's aim was to show anything new. He critically and categorically looks at the lines history has been giving us for so many years and offers a fresh perspective. The book gives some lesser known facts on Coolidge: he was voted one of the best radio personalities of his time, "Silent Cal" gave more press conferences than ANY of his predecessors, and had staggeringly high approval ratings that could have ushered him into another term. Sobel also shows Coolidge to be the epitome of "hands-off" government. What a refreshing thought for today.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Much Needed Cure For The Usual Coolidge Dogma, July 5, 1998
By A Customer
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
I think Mr. Sobel has done an excellent job in destroying much of the criticism of Calvin Coolidge the man as well as Calvin Coolidge the President.
I picked up this book out of curiosity - I read the Coolidge chapter in Nathan Miller's book "Star-Spangled Men - America's Ten Worst Presidents", and decided to learn more about this silent, penurious, enigmatic President who was apparently heartless and supported big business while in office.
I soon found that this man was quite likable, although he lacked the garrulous nature of many politicians. One of his major faults, as Mr. Sobel put it, was in "not being able to predict the future." He cut taxes four times and had good reason not to interfere with Wall Street (read the book to find out why!).
To any person that wishes to know more about an OUTSTANDING U.S. President who was in office during a time of great prosperity, please consider this wonderful biography.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Coolidge is Still Cool!, December 1, 2000
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This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
As an ardent admirer of FDR and the New Deal, I'd never read any more on Coolidge than his "Keep Faith in Massachusetts". This book didn't change any of my major beliefs about Coolidge, but certainly filled in countless details about his life and work. I admire Mr. Sobel's efforts to make a readable book despite the lack of Coolidge's papers.
As is ably demonstrated, Mr. Coolidge was popular as much for what he was as for what he did. His integrity and moral rectitude served him so well in those pre-TV times. A man such as this would stand no chance in today's prettified, telegenic politics.
Mr. Sobel is able to illustrate the injustice done to the memory of President Coolidge as being cold and remote. Mr. Coolidge was a child of his time, region, and upbringing. His deep love for his family is refreshing.
This eminently readable book will give great enjoyment to those interested in Presidential history.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fair assessment of an elusive man, January 29, 2005
By 
Ian Fowler (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
I purchased the late Robert Sobel's "Coolidge: An American Enigma" by happenstance. I had no particular opinion of Calvin Coolidge, beyond the general impression that he was one of the very few "caretaker" presidents of the 20th century. After completing this biography, that impression remains unchanged. Despite Sobel's infectious enthusiasm for his subject, Coolidge remains a cipher: likable, decent, honest, but very deliberately lacking in color or discernable personality.

Sobel knows how to write an entertaining biography, especially in light of how dry his subject is. He skillfully follows Coolidge from his childhood in Vermont, his education at Amherst, his governance of Massachusetts, and finally his rise to the office of first vice-president, then president. Through this, Sobel paints interesting portraits of the man and his times. Indeed, some of the most exciting parts of the book occur when Sobel shifts his focus away from Coolidge and focuses on the events that affect the outcome of Coolidge's life. While some of the examination of the Massachusetts political machine seem a little tangential, the passages recounting the Boston police strike and the 1920 Republican convention are particularly gripping. His overview of the scandals of the Harding administration are paticularly instructive.

Still, Sobel never loses sight of the fact he's writing a book about Coolidge. His examination of Coolidge as president is intriguing, if a little sparse. Sparse, because Coolidge himself is difficult to pin down. He was very much from the laissez-faire school of government, taking great pains to limit federal intervention in state and local matters, as well as business. The downside of this was, as Sobel does note, Coolidge did very little beyond pay lip-service to social issues of the country, e.g., the plight of African-Americans and Native Americans. He was also not terribly interested in international matters, although as Sobel points out, Coolidge was able to handle tensions with Mexico. He is also very explicit that the tendency to lay the Depression at Coolidge's feet is totally unfair, as Coolidge was only in the vaguest awareness of what could happen to the booming economy, and was far less equipped to do anything about it.

The most substantial problem I had with this book is Sobel's tendency to allow too much of his own bias show. Sobel, from what I can tell, was very much a Reagan Republican. This was obviously a reason for his decision to attempt to rehabilitate Coolidge. However, that often leads to awkward editorializing. The most overt example is a lengthy dissection of previous Coolidge historiography, including an an attempt to reutt the works of Arthur M. Schlesinger on the failure of the Harding-Coolidge-Hoover era. While I realize that Sobel's intent was to take on the popular view of Coolidge as some sort of failure, I felt that Sobel's decision to place this argument in the beginning of Chapter 9 inappropriate. This would have made perfect sense in the introduction or the epilogue materials. Including it in the body was distracting, and caused me to set it down for a little while.

Another concern was Sobel's copious use of block excerpts, particularly in the opening of the book. It felt like Sobel was padding a little. As the work progresses, the quotes seem more useful, and less intrusive.

On the whole, I surprised by "Coolidge: An American Enigma". I found Coolidge the man appealing. While he would have been horribly out of step with this day and age (indeed, just years later he would have been quaint), Coolidge was a man of his time, lending further credence to the idea that times make men as much as men make times. Had Sobel distanced himself a little more from his subject, it would have been about perfect. As it stands, it's an excellent single volume about a caretaker president.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The real Coolidge, February 23, 2004
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The late author, Robert Sobel, has done a fine job in peeling away the crusty layers of our thirtieth president. Known for his taciturn and somnolent personality, Calvin Coolidge is revealed in this book to have had more substance than one might have given him credit.
Biographers of presidents who are generally regarded as average or below average often write about their subjects with a bent of pushing them up a notch or two in history. A current biography of Warren G. Harding written by John Dean of Watergate fame, for instance, lays out a theme of trying to lift Harding out of the cellar of presidential comparison. Sobel is a bit less interested in Coolidge's lasting reputation although he would like the reader to be reminded that Coolidge did have some accomplishments while in the White House and that his administration, in stark contrast to Harding, his predecessor, was scandal free and that Coolidge, himself, was a man of tremendous virtue.
The myth that Coolidge was a hard worker is not quite dispelled in Sobel's book. One can surmise that the only midnight oil Calvin Coolidge ever burned was on the night of his sudden inauguration at his father's home in Vermont following Harding's death..... the oath being administered by Coolidge's father.
Sobel spends a little too much time on analyzing the country's finances during the Coolidge administration. At these times the author's writing becomes bogged down in detail and his prose begins to sound like that of his subject...humorless and dry.
That said, I would recommend this book to those who are not only interested in the period between the two World Wars but also in the juxtaposition of the Harding and Coolidge administrations. I also think that reading the Dean biography on Harding in conjunction with the Sobel book on Coolidge would give a fairly accurate, if not overly deep sense of the United States during this period.
One cannot imagine a Coolidge as president during World War II (or for that matter during the depression) any more than one might look at Franklin D. Roosevelt as president during the 1920s. The point of this book seems not to be so much about the successes of Coolidge policy but rather an effort to glimpse the president in a slightly more favorable light. To this end Sobel triumphs. Yet he reminds us in the end that Coolidge was a man who was decent, sometimes shrewd and who filled his role as president in a detached but popular way. Perhaps Calvin Coolidge was indeed the right fit for his times.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Coolidge is presented, January 27, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Coolidge: An American Enigma (Hardcover)
Sobel presents the view of Coolidge as a principled, practical man with political principles based on his personal values: frugality, patience, and studiousness. As a politician, he used these values to his adavantage as he made the trip from city council to the oval office.
Sobel also brings light onto the evolution Coolidge made from being an activist Progressive governor to a near-libertarian President. While he has no way to examine the internal factors leading to this change, Sobel does show the external factors, including his association with conservative businessman Frank Stearns. Coolidge's change made him the political heir of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quite & unaasumming President, October 17, 2002
There aren't too many biographies about the life of Calvin Coolidge. This is an absorbing book that is sure to shatter many myths about Coolidge. I highly recommend it for your reading list.
President Coolidge was not a man accustomed to tooting his horn. He is well known for his economical use of words. Without a doubt moderate or conservative in personal behavior, President Coolidge should not be confused with modern political conservatives. While his personal behavior was clearly conservative, his political beliefs were more identifiable with those associated with modern libertarianism. President Coolidge was one who believed that government should exercise restraint and not limit liberty. Despite this belief that government should exercise restraint, President Coolidge's Administration suffered very little from scandal.
Modern historians often portray Coolidge as a minor figure and trivialize his time as President. Often portrayed as a lackey for big business and for not doing anything to prevent the Great Depression, this biography puts holes in the myth that he was in the pocket of big business and responsible for the Depression. President Coolidge was neither lazy, unintelligent, nor an accidental President. Coolidge understood the concept of restraint and approached life as President from that perspective. Not concerned with the outward trappings of power, Coolidge stayed true to his Vermont roots.
You will find that Coolidge was neither indolent nor unintelligent after reading this book. President Coolidge is just the kind of President we need today.
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Coolidge: An American Enigma
Coolidge: An American Enigma by Robert Sobel (Hardcover - May 25, 1998)
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