Few presidents have fallen as far as Calvin Coolidge. A popular president during his time in the White House, his standing plummeted with the onset of the Depression and the retroactive discrediting of his administration's policies that were associated with it. Yet in recent years a number of conservative writers have challenged this view, offering a contrasting interpretation of Coolidge as a presidential paragon. In this respect Amity Shlaes is merely the latest in a long line of writers stretching from Thomas B. Silver to Robert Sobel who seek to rehabilitate Coolidge's historical reputation so as to make him a respectable example of presidential leadership for our own times.
Yet it seems that the only way that Shlaes can achieve this goal is by ignoring the many criticisms directed against Coolidge's presidency. Rather than acknowledging any role that his low-tax, minimalist-regulation agenda might have played in fueling the speculative mania that led to stock market crash of 1929 or the depression that followed, she prefers to depict his administration as having achieved a perfect economic environment that was humming along smoothly when the keys were handed over to his successor. Throwing Herbert Hoover under the bus by blaming him for the collapse that followed is not only grossly unfair, it defies the evidence of an economy in the 1920s that was nowhere near as healthy as Shlaes would like to admit. Moreover, it undermines her goal, as rather than give Coolidge's achievements a full reexamination that would address the criticisms she does little more than offer a selective portrait that only serves to reaffirm the beliefs of the like-minded.
This is unfortunate considering the effort she put into her work. For despite Shlaes's considerable research in the papers of Coolidge and his contemporaries, her overall result adds little to the case made in previous efforts to redeem Coolidge and his presidency. Because of this, readers seeking to learn more about Coolidge would be better served by turning to Sobel's superior Coolidge or David Greenberg's shorter Calvin Coolidge for an understanding of our 30th president's life and career rather than Shlaes's hefty tome - which, for all its size, proves in the end to be disappointingly hollow.
This book is about Calvin Coolidge, a Vermonter who rose to become America's 30th President in the mid 1920s (he was initially Harding's Vice President, until Harding's death).
This wasn't a bad book. It read pretty well, and moved at a good lick. My problem is that I think it doesn't necessarily bear comparison to other American political biographies I've read lately.
Don't get me wrong, it's a decent enough read in its own right (even if it portrays Coolidge as someone who never saw a buck he didn't know how to stretch), it's just compared to Caro's book about Johnson in the Senate, this book just doesn't feel as well researhed or well written.
If you've not read Caro's book, you'll probably enjoy this one better.