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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.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist
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Calvin Coolidge is one of our most hazily remembered presidents. He was reserved but strong willed and a man of conviction. Shlaes (syndicated columnist, Bloomberg View; The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression) shows that there are lessons in Coolidge's time as chief executive for how a determined president can cut the budget if he tries. Coolidge, a flinty Vermonter, moved to Massachusetts to practice law. His quiet intelligence got him elected to a series of offices, including the top one. As Massachusetts governor, he put down the Boston police strike, during which the police attempted to hold the government hostage. That got him national press, the vice presidency, and, upon President Harding's death in 1923, the White House. -VERDICT In spite of Coolidge's seeming inscrutable nature, Shlaes does an excellent job of bringing him to life. Her book is accessible but scholarly. Its bibliographical essay is an excellent guide for further reading. A good biography of a president undergoing historical reassessment; recommended.-Michael O. Eshleman, Hobbs, NM (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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Reading perceived weaknesses as strengths and persistent setbacks as evidence of perseverance, journalist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man) glowingly portrays Coolidge as an unappreciated economic hero. Born in Vermont in 1872, Coolidge studied law in Northampton, Mass., married schoolteacher Grace Goodhue, and doggedly climbed the Republican political ladder. From governor of Massachusetts to vice president and then president of the United States, Coolidge distanced himself from the progressive elements of his party; he championed low taxes, small government, and commerce as the foundations of prosperity. Shlaes writes with crisp, engaging prose, and her keen eye for detail is rooted in a solid collection of source material. But the story's unrelenting linear trajectory bounces between such disparate topics as tax policies, maple syrup, and aviation with little indication of the degree of importance. Shlaes's reluctance to critically analyze Coolidge's political policies and actions is especially evident in her avoidance of delving into what Coolidge may have known about the Harding scandals and about weaknesses in the economy. Shlaes successfully shows, through clear explanations of Coolidge's fiscal policies, why modern-day conservatives should consider him an economic hero, but she fails to illuminate what it meant for all Americans to Keep Cool with Coolidge during the complex 1920s. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agents: Sarah Chalfant, Scott Moyers, Adam Eaglin, and Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.