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Coolidge [Kindle Edition]

Amity Shlaes
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (403 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

A Dialogue Between Amity Shlaes and Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes: I like Coolidge, but do you, Paul, think he matters? Coolidge was president in the 1920s. That’s a long time ago.

Paul Volcker: Well there are some parallels to current times. During his time, Coolidge was under great pressure, much like today. Even before he was president, as governor of Massachusetts, Coolidge was forced into the Boston police strike. He took a principled stance.

AS:You mean, he fired the police, who were good people. But he felt he had to fire them, because Boston fell into chaos when they left their post.

PV: Yes, that attracted a lot of attention, and for good reason. He was a good man himself. Sometimes I wish we had more principled men serving in government now.

AS: Is that kind of principled action even possible today?

PV: It is obviously difficult. But in the area of monetary policy the received wisdom has been that by removing decision-making a bit away from raw political life, you have a better chance of following reasonable, disciplined policy, and taking a longer term view. That is the hope.

AS: Coolidge tried to live a clean life. Harding had partied. Does that matter?

PV: Yes.

AS: What about the Federal Reserve Bank’s policy in the late teens and early 1920s? The Fed’s boss then, W.P.G. Harding, took a lot of criticism for supporting tightening.

PV: Central banking theory was not very well developed in those days, and it certainly was not well developed in the United States. But there was a sense that since there was inflation, raising interest rates was appropriate. The policy was not terribly active; there were no concerted open market operations in those days. The Federal Reserve was more reactive than an initiating instrument. It so happened they had a big inflation followed by a big, but short, recession. There are debates to this day as to whether the Federal Reserve failed to react soon enough given the depth of the recession or whether the hands-off attitude led to the rapid recovery after they dealt with the inflation.

AS: At the Federal Reserve W.P.G. Harding raised interest rates 300 basis points, which was basically doubling it, to squeeze out inflation.

PV: 300 basis points is nothing anymore (laughs).

AS: Congress blamed the fed’s head back then for the recession. Is it hard to be the Fed Head when people blame you for recession? You had recessions.

PV: Of course! You’re willing to experience it once, you don’t like to have one twice.

AS: Are there ways Coolidge was better than Ronald Reagan? Or, at the least, does Silent Cal warrant an upgrade?

PV: Coolidge is forgotten and Reagan is a hero. Coolidge had the police strike, Reagan had the strike of the air traffic controllers. Coolidge didn’t like to spend money, Reagan liked to reduce taxes.

AS: What’s important?

PV: Coolidge balanced the budget. Saving, we don’t do that anymore. Instead we rely on Social Security and government. Now we fight about all the entitlements, those programs didn’t even exist back in Coolidge’s day.

AS: What’s your summary?

PV: What we understood was that Coolidge was kind of a do-nothing president. He took over for Harding, he was an honest guy, he was kind of open and frugal, but that was it. But in fact there’s so much to learn from Coolidge. Any president is going to face a lot of problems and Coolidge faced up to them. He produced, after Harding, honest government. He contributed to some degree of trust in government. Americans today need to read Amity’s biography to learn more about him.

From Booklist

Rated below average in historians’ polls, Calvin Coolidge was a satisfactory president to the 1920s electorate, which certainly would have voted him back had he run in 1928. That he declined fit with the self-restraint of Coolidge, whose roots in rural Vermont Shlaes explores in this comprehensive biography. She infuses her narrative with Coolidge’s abhorrence of debt and practice of parsimony, personal principles he scaled up to federal size with his budget-cutting, tax-reducing policies. In addition to frugality, law and order was another salient Coolidge precept, which made him presidential timber when, as Massachusetts governor, Silent Cal broke a Boston police strike with the lapidary saying, “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime.” Behind the stern public visage, Shlaes shows a Coolidge of feelings, close to his father, pained by the deaths of a sister and a son, and, at times, jealous of his attractive, gregarious wife. Wedged between Progressives and New Dealers, Coolidge may be fated to be a laissez-faire anachronism, but one whose record Shlaes meticulously and fluidly presents for history readers to judge. --Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • File Size: 17178 KB
  • Print Length: 1025 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006SJCM0I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #85,605 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
186 of 222 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Amity Shlaes chronicles a riveting portrait of a great American president, Calvin Coolidge, who served in office in the 1920s. He was known to many as "Silent Cal" and to some as "Scrooge." His personality portrayed a quiet, passive man, old fashioned, but the most modern of all presidents. His discipline represented strength, and he was admired for his courage. From the governor of Massachusetts to the President of the U.S., he never feared issues in a crucial period of turmoil as he showed the nation how to persevere. His motto of doing less could produce more, along with his frugal beliefs of curtailing spending and rejecting funding showed outstanding results, while reducing the federal budget. The economy was growing as tax rates fell, wages increased, and unemployment was down. As the thirtieth president, his humble service was meant to create a decade of prosperity, which indeed grew from his leadership. In comparison to today's political and economical issues, he was also under great pressure, forced into the Boston police strike, and acted as a man of principal as he resolved the issue. His humble persistence and his faith in the people restored economic history. Under his leadership, Americans wired their homes for electricity, moved from the road to the air, and religious faith found its modern context as the first White House Christmas tree was lit. Amity Shlaes reminds the reader that Coolidge inspired other presidents, and always acted decisively. He understood the value of predictability in government and the importance of civility, and that government too large could infringe upon freedom. In addition, the author highlights the fact that without knowing Coolidge, Americans cannot know the 1920s, and full knowledge of this president enriches the study of all presidents. Read more ›
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but a bit of a letdown May 16, 2013
With abuse-of-power scandals popping like Fourth of July crackers in Washington, this seemed like a good time to kick back and read about a President who has long been patronized for doing too little while in office. As Amity Shlaes makes clear in this new biography of Calvin Coolidge, purposely pulling back on the reins of government actually requires more effort than is typically expended by a more activist leader. During his five years in office, President Coolidge certainly found it so.

For all of its considerable detail, I did find Shlaes' narrative to be lacking in certain areas and inartfully crafted in others. Coolidge's money-saving economic policies get most of the attention, as they should, but there is little on Coolidge Administration foreign policy save for the last-minute drive to ratify the war-"outlawing" Kellogg-Briand Pact. The U.S. was not "isolationist" during the 1920s in any meaningful sense of the word, but Shlaes inadvertently leaves that impression. As to Shlaes' style, it is best described as "lumpy." Characters are repeatedly reintroduced to us, while other figures who might have been expected to get much more attention, such as Coolidge's secretary C. Bascom Slemp, barely rate a mention. The short-shrifting of Slemp seems particularly unfortunate because he was a Virginia Republican at a time when Southern Republicans were rare; including him as a major player would have added some depth to the comparatively scanty discussion of Coolidge's policies towards the South and black civil rights.

If you are interested in learning about Coolidge's life, personality, and Presidency, this is a fairly decent introductory book, but I still came away somewhat disappointed. Several more runs through the editorial mill would, I believe, have strengthened both the content and the prose.
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118 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cool Biography of a Great President February 13, 2013
In the United States today, the presidency of Calvin Coolidge has all but faded from living memory. Millions of Americans likely have never even heard of him, and in the eyes of millions more who have heard of him he has a poor reputation due to the revisionism that passes for history that is currently taught in high schools and colleges. Author Amity Shlaes set the record straight concerning the Great Depression in The Forgotten Man, and she restores the reputation of our thirtieth president in this splendid, well-researched new biography, "Coolidge."

The future president was born in 1872 into a solid family in Vermont, and Shlaes discusses the traits such as thrift and perseverance that young Calvin internalized while growing up in New England in the late nineteenth century. Coolidge's tenacity paid off during his time at Amherst College in Massachusetts, as he bounced back from adversity to succeed and go on to become a lawyer.

Coolidge eventually entered politics and began climbing the GOP ladder in the Bay State--it is far from certain that someone as introverted as Coolidge could ever succeed in politics today to the degree that Coolidge did, but in his day he was a great vote-getter, and at election time he usually outpolled other Republicans who were on the same ticket with him.

Shlaes notes that Coolidge became more conservative during his early years in public service and that he came to realize that in many situations inaction represents strength, not weakness.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Learning the history my grandparents and their parents lived! Great...
Learned more about the history my grandparents and their parents lived. Valuable lessons we should consider and apply in our current times.
Published 6 days ago by Bob Summers
5.0 out of 5 stars Great retrospective on this President
Great retrospective on this President. So underestimated in current times. We need budget cutters like him now. Loved the detail and the fine writing of Ms. Shlaes' book.
Published 17 days ago by Robert M. Esch
4.0 out of 5 stars always a good read for history buffs
Enjoying U.S. history—and especially of the presidents—I need to read about the one president who picture president Reagan wanted hung in the Oval Office. ... Read more
Published 18 days ago by J. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Amity Shlaes did an excellent job with this book
Calvin Coolidge is perhaps our most under rated president! He balanced the budget and reduced income tax rates. This resulted in the economic boom known as the roaring 20s. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Kevin Widler
4.0 out of 5 stars If you enjoy presidential history
This book is a slow-read for me, however, the history is most interesting as I truly did not know much about this president. Read more
Published 1 month ago by M. Love
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read! Greatly detailed up to his Presidency and ...
A good read! Greatly detailed up to his Presidency and subsequent retirement where it appears those periods were quickly glossed over.
Published 1 month ago by Brendan P. Kearney
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
a good picture of a man few really know.
Published 1 month ago by Joe K
4.0 out of 5 stars Amity Shlaes shows us what made old Silent Cal tick - it's a good...
This book was a good read for me. Shlaes is an excellent writer (I loved her book The Forgotten Man), and she gives the reader a really good feel for the kind of man and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by newberry
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book! Well researched and documented
Great book! Well researched and documented.
Published 1 month ago by Milton H.
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read
A very well written and informative book. I learned there was much more to a President I only knew as "Silent Cal" such as he really wasn't silent when he had something to... Read more
Published 1 month ago by shafter_bare
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More About the Author

Amity Shlaes is proud to announce the publication of FORGOTTEN MAN GRAPHIC, a graphic version of her national bestseller about the 1930s, THE FORGOTTEN MAN. The artist for this 300-page treatment is the renowned cartoonist Paul Rivoche. Some samples of this cartoon book are on Miss Shlaes's facebook page. This is a book for thinkers and teachers, containing timelines and profiles of historic characters from the 1920s and 1930s.
Miss Shlaes is the author of three national bestsellers, COOLIDGE, THE FORGOTTEN MAN, and THE GREEDY HAND.
Miss Shlaes chairs the board of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She is chairman of the Hayek Prize, a prize for free market books given by the Manhattan Institute.
She teaches economic history at New York University's Stern School of Business.
Miss Shlaes has been the recipient of the Frederic Bastiat Prize of the International Policy Network, the Warren Brookes Prize (2008) of the American Legislative Exchange Council, as well as a two-time finalist for the Loeb Prize (Anderson School/UCLA).
In 2009, "The Forgotten Man" won the Manhattan Institute's Hayek Prize. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale College and did graduate work at the Freie Universitaet Berlin on a DAAD fellowship. She and her husband, the editor and author Seth Lipsky, have four children.

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