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3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (159 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Amity Shlaes Narrator: Terence Aselford Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: February 2013 ISBN: 9780062116093
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Being the 30th president of the United States doesn't mean you get the respect you deserve, at least according to the author of "Coolidge". Calvin Coolidge inherited the White House in 1923 after the death of Warren G. Harding, and was not elected as president on his own merits until two years later. He never rated highly in voter satisfaction polls and he's most remembered for being the president who governed in the years right before the Great Depression.

Coolidge's story begins in Vermont's Plymouth Notch, where he was born to a state legislator father. He grew up in the world of politics, and began his career himself at a young age. By the time he became president in 1923, Coolidge was governing a nation that was quickly developing scientifically and medically as well as politically. During his career, Coolidge saw most Americans install electricity in their homes and purchase t heir first cars. Modern America was born during this time.

Coolidge discusses its namesake's discipline and composure, his success in reducing the federal budget and his role in helping the economy thrive through high wages and low taxes. The book strives to be a true tale of historical fact, and there is even a downloadable reference guide to help understand the president's role in American history. It is worth mentioning, however, that the author may be a little biased as a trustee of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation.

Amity Shlaes is a writer known for her work within politics and economics. Her last novel, The Forgotten Man, was about Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and the role of big government in Great Depression. Shlaes, a former editor at The Wall Street Journal, is currently a senior fellow and director of the Four Percent Project at the George W. Bush Institute. She also serves as a Bloomberg View columnist.

Calvin Coolidge, who served as president from 1923 to 1929, never rated highly in polls. The shy Vermonter, nicknamed “Silent Cal”, has long been dismissed as quiet and passive. History has remembered the decade in which he served as the frivolous, extravagant period predating the Great Depression. Now Amity Shlaes, the author known for her riveting, unexpected portrait of the 1930s, provides a similarly fresh look at the 1920s and its elusive president. Shlaes shows that the mid-'20s was, in fact, a triumphant period that established our modern way of life: the nation electrified, Americans drove their first cars, and the federal deficit was replaced with a surplus. Coolidge is an eye-opening biography of the little-known president behind that era of remarkable growth and national optimism.

Although Coolidge was sometimes considered old-fashioned, he was the most modern of presidents, advancing not only the automobile trade but also aviation, through his spirited support of Charles Lindbergh. Coolidge’s discipline and composure, Shlaes reveals, represented not weakness but strength. First as governor of Massachusetts then as president, Coolidge proved unafraid to take on the divisive issues of this crucial period: reining in public-sector unions, unrelentingly curtailing spending, and rejecting funding for new interest groups.

Perhaps more than any other president, Coolidge understood that doing less could yield more. He reduced the federal budget during his time in office even as the economy grew, wages rose, tax rates fell, and unemployment dropped. As a husband, father, and citizen, the 30th president made an equally firm commitment to moderation, shunning lavish parties and special presidential treatment; to him, the presidency was not a bully pulpit but a place for humble service. Overcoming private tragedy while in office, including the death of a son, Coolidge showed the nation how to persevere by persevering himself. For a nation looking for a steady hand, he was a welcome pilot.

In this illuminating, magisterial biography, Amity Shlaes finally captures the remarkable story of Calvin Coolidge and the decade of extraordinary prosperity that grew from his leadership.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “History has paid little attention to the achievements of Coolidge because he seemed to be unduly passive. Yet Amity Shlaes, as his biographer, exposes the heroic nature of the man and brings to life one of the most vibrant periods in American economic history.”

    Alan Greenspan, economist and former chairman of the Federal Reserve

  • “Amity Shlaes’ new biography carries a different and highly relevant message…Read Coolidge and better understand the forces bearing on the president and Congress almost a century later.”

    Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve

  • Coolidge is a welcome new biography of a great American president. Amity Shlaes shines fresh light on a leader of humble persistence who unexpectedly found himself in the presidency and whose faith in the American people helped restore prosperity during a period of great turmoil. Amidst today’s economic hardships and an uncertain future, Shlaes illuminates a path forward—making Coolidge a must-read for policy makers and citizens alike.”

    Paul Ryan, US Representative

  • “A marvelous book that is in many respects as subtle and powerful as Coolidge himself. Shlaes’ masterly command of economics, policy, and personal portraiture illustrates the times, talents, character, and courage of the consummate New Englander.”

    Mark Helprin, New York Times bestselling author

  • “To read Amity Shlaes’ well-crafted biography is to understand why Reagan so admired the famously reticent man whom Shlaes calls ‘our great refrainer.’”

    George F. Will, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Amity Shlaes’ extraordinary biography describes how a single politician can change an entire political culture—a story with plenty of echoes today. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, doyenne of the Washington salons, first disdained Coolidge, then admired him. After reading Coolidge, every reader will, too.”

    Anne Applebaum, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Shlaes glowingly portrays Coolidge as an unappreciated economic hero.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “A presidential life certain to win wide attention in this new era of fierce economic debates.”

    Barnes & Noble, editorial review

  • “Like-minded readers will find Shlaes’ well-researched but highly opinionated biography deeply satisfying.”

    Kirkus Reviews

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Peter | 2/7/2014

    " If this country ever regains some sanity when it comes to economics and the proper role of government it will owe a debt of gratitude to Ms. Shlaes. In so eloquently portraying the life of Calvin Coolidge and the sound ideas that he practiced, she has done us all a great service. As in "The Forgotten Man," we are once again reminded of the folly of "progressive" ideas, especially now. I am old enough to remember tales of the Depression from my parents and grandparents. Old enough, too, to remember even 50 years ago American History Textbooks blaming the depression on the Roaring Twenties, inflation and Republicans aversion to regulation. Oh, my goodness, did we just have a repeat in 2008 till now. Growing-up I never quite understood why my grandfather thought FDR was the ruination of the country. Books like these will, I hope, make a light or two go on in the dim recesses of many voters minds. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Wendy Bailey | 1/14/2014

    " It was as exciting as a biography of Calvin Coolidge can be. I enjoyed reading about his life, but I felt it focused too much on the legislative issues he faced and not enough on his personal life. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Anthony | 9/20/2013

    " Why read about Calvin Coolidge you say? I'll admit that Coolidge doesn't inspire a lot of excitement - he isn't celebrated like his Republican predecessor, Lincoln, or the iconic Washington. And while reading this latest biography I was bashfully amused at the mocking comment of a friend of mine who picked up my copy to say, "Coolidge? That is probably the president I've thought the least about." My friend's comments reflect a common sentiment - there isn't a lot of focus on Coolidge in our basic history lessons. The primary focus of the period of American history that covers his presidency is overly focused on the economic prosperity of the "roaring twenties" and the influence of the mafia during the prohibition era. Amity Shlaes's latest biography provides sufficient cause to rediscover Coolidge and evaluate his influence on federal governance. The biography illuminates that although "Silent Cal" was a soft-spoken and direct leader starkly different from the outspoken politician we observe in our modern day, he was immensely popular during his time because he made deliberate decisions that reflected his ability to listen to and assess the needs of the nation without making enemies in the political process. In short, he seems like the kind of guy that we need today, and perhaps he is a Republican I would have liked and voted for. As most biographies do, Coolidge starts from the 30th president's beginnings to demonstrate the development of the man that would later become a leader. I found Coolidge's humble back-story an inspiring and encouraging tale of a common man who followed his calling to take part in shaping the society he inhabited. He grew up in a very rural part of Vermont, in the town of Plymouth Notch, a place that had few roads and was a rugged land that inspired hard work and forward thinking conservatism of its people. Coolidge's family included many who believed in the American charge to serve their country: several served political office in order to serve their communities, including his father. Coolidge studied at the small college, Amherst, and during his first years he was an unpopular outcast expected to have few successes in later life, yet in his senior years he was inspired by progressive ideas and developed into popular public speaker. After graduating he chose the difficult path to save money and study law the old-fashioned way, by working in a firm while studying for the Bar rather than paying for instruction at law school. As a young lawyer and during the beginnings of his political career Coolidge struggled for several years earning little while continuing to depend upon the support of his thrifty father. Coolidge rose into the national spotlight when he was Governor of Massachusetts during the Boston Police Strike of 1919. President Wilson was avoiding the events that were causing national attention due to the lawlessness of the riots and violence occurring in Boston. Coolidge supported the Police Commissioner's decision to not recognize the union and furthermore, to not rehire the striking policemen when the strike subsided. The rationale of his decision was grounded in his philosophy of service to the people as demonstrated by his statement that "the action of the police in leaving their posts of duty is not a strike. It is desertion. (167)". Coolidge's handling of the situation eventually promoted him to a nomination as Harding's running mate as the vice president. Harding and Coolidge won the 1920 election with a landslide victory of 60% of the popular vote, running on a campaign that encouraged a return to "normalcy" following the tumultuous times of the first World War. In office, Harding promoted the development of a national budget (it is amazing to think that there wasn't one before 1920) and to adjust the tax codes to reduce the national debt and promote industrializing the country. Harding's presidency was short lived, dying in 1923. As Coolidge stepped up to the presidential office, he continued the Harding legacy of budgeting and adjusting the tax codes while vetoing many of Congress's attempts to expand the federal government. Due to the prosperity in the country under his policies, Coolidge was immensely popular during his term and easily won the 1924 election. Despite his popularity and the urging to run again in 1928, he chose the humble decision to step away from politics and return to his Vermont home. Unfortunately, after he made this decision in 1927, his influence waned due to the "lame-duck" mentality that always infects congress. During his term as president, Coolidge's policies were identified as a foundation for the small government philosophy of the current Republican party. However, Coolidge's notes and letters show that the motivations for his actions were inspired by the federalism first championed by President Washington. Coolidge held the state's rights above the federal government's power and his philosophy on federal governance was put to the test during two disasters that occurred during his presidency: a flood in Mississippi and a flood in his home state of Vermont. During the first flood in Mississippi Coolidge did not rush to intervene because he respected the state's authority in handling the situation. When Vermont was subsequently put to the same challenge, he was criticized by some constituents of his home state for not helping his neighbors, but he acted consistently according to the powers of his office and refrained from overstepping the Vermont governance of the situation. Reading about these two events caused me to reflect upon how much the federal government has changed from the 1920's to today. Bush was highly criticized for his delayed intervention in Louisiana following hurricane Katrina and Obama was highly praised for his prompt intervention following the most recent disasters occurring following Hurricane Sandy. The popular sentiment of this day expects government intervention, yet Coolidge remained highly popular during his time for respecting the authority of the states and not overreaching his federal power. Events like the police strike and the flood situation I described above make Coolidge an enlightening and enriching read. This book provides a lot of insight about the quiet president of whom popular history so often ignores. The writing of the book is engaging during Coolidge's younger years as well as during pivotal moments such as the Boston Strike and both the Mississippi and Vermont floods, however I will acknowledge that as the chronology shifted to Coolidge's presidential years I felt that the narrative focus began to dwindle. This may be in part largely due to the need to cover a much more broad range of topics on both the national and international level, whereas during Coolidge's earlier years the book is more focused on the personal or narrow topics that affected Massachusetts during his governorship. This is a flaw that can be overlooked if your interests are invested in expanding your understanding of the silent president that is often ignored to better understand how the pivotal times that occurred following World War I helped shape the country that we have today. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sfrith | 9/4/2013

    " Excellent President who compared himself with Abraham Lincoln. He predicted the great depression, but others believed in greater spending and more taxes. History repeats itself. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Joe Pace | 7/13/2013

    " Revisionist right-wing pipe dreams, positioning Cal as a hero of the devil-take-the-hindmost tea party set. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Land Murphy | 6/26/2013

    " Great book. Fascinating man and president. We could learn much from Coolidge, but I suspect his take would be that we have long since passed the point of no return. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Amanda | 6/3/2013

    " Fine book. A bit dry at times. Coolidge was really a fascinating man. Really one of the most overlooked presdients. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cameron | 6/2/2013

    " The portrayal of Coolidge as a president who actually cut spending, who avoided cronyism and scandal, and who practiced what he preached, makes one wonder what the nation would look like if we'd had more presidents just like him. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Joe Solomon | 4/21/2013

    " Gave it to my Dad because I like books better than CDs, but from what I heard on it the author gives a detailed and accurate interpretation of why Coolidge was a good president. And an important one, which most people just seem to overlook. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Bob | 4/11/2013

    " Great book about a great president. "

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About the Author
Author Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes is a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations and a syndicated columnist at Bloomberg. She has written for the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, where she was an editorial board member, as well as for the New Yorker, Fortune, National Review, New Republic, and Foreign Affairs. She is the author of The Greedy Hand, among other works, and lives in New York.