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Coolidge Hardcover – February 12, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 457 customer reviews

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Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The bestselling author of "Encyclopedia an Ordinary Life" returns with a literary experience that is unprecedented, unforgettable, and explosively human. Hardcover | Kindle book
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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061967556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061967559
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (457 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #89,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Author/Reviewer Geri Ahearn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 12, 2013
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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