21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Rescued from the shadows, if only for a moment,
This review is from: Chester Alan Arthur: The American Presidents Series: The 21st President, 1881-1885 (Hardcover)
Zachary Karabell set a challenge for himself, no question: Take one of America's most forgotten presidents and try to find enough to say about him to fill a book -- even one fitting the relatively short length of the titles in The American Presidents series. And give the man credit, he's done it. More than that, he even makes a case for Arthur as -- if still not quite memorable, let alone important -- at least somewhat interesting.
Karabell's challenge was made all the greater by the shadows surrounding Arthur's personal life. Not only did Arthur prefer it that way himself (p. 108), but most of his personal papers were destroyed shortly after his death. Consequently, Arthur the man is a little thin in these pages ("thin" being an adjective probably never applied to Arthur himself during his lifetime). But while anyone looking for People Magazine-style "hidden secrets" about our twenty-first president is bound to be disappointed, the author more than makes up for this with a fine capsule portrayal of the Gilded Age and its politics. This is important, for Arthur was very much a man and a politician of his time.
Indeed, the most noteworthy part of Arthur's term in office was his own transformation from "Gentleman Boss" to simply "Gentleman." Despite his history as the veritable poster boy of spoils-system, backroom machine politicking, Arthur "grew in office," as we'd say today, into perhaps one of the best men to help shepherd through important civil service reforms. Karabell argues, I think convincingly, that the new political culture Arthur helped create still affects us today.
Chester Alan Arthur wasn't a crusader or a firebrand. He wasn't driven by a lust for power or glory. In fact, Karabell describes him as perhaps America's most reluctant president -- a man who never in his life wanted to be chief executive. He slipped back into obscurity almost as soon as he left office, and if anything is even more forgotten today. But "in an age of low expectations, he was more than satisfactory" (p. 139). That the author is able to make that case, not only convincingly but interestingly and even sometimes entertainingly as well, is a credit to him as well as to his subject.
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Initial post: Nov 27, 2011 9:10:03 AM PST
Patricia C. Stendal says:
This comment has made me want to read the book, but since I am in South America, I will have to wait until it is available on Kindle.
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