Brooklyn Bookbeat: ‘Silent Cal’ is the hero in ‘Coolidge,’ by Brooklyn Heights author Amity Shlaes
Brooklyn Heights writer Amity Shlaes has just released “Coolidge,” her latest book that presents a fascinating biography of America’s thirtieth president. Known as “Silent Cal,” Coolidge’s achievements have been largely overlooked because of his passive and reticent disposition – yet Shlaes now disproves these misconceptions, revealing the president’s heroic side.
Coolidge led the nation from 1923-1929. Shlaes reveals that despite his eventual success, during his youth Coolidge was an unlikely presidential candidate; he came from a small New England town and was so unpopular amongst his college peers that he was denied inclusion in the Amherst fraternities. History often relates that once in charge of the country, Coolidge acted frivolously and contributed to the Great Depression. Shlaes, however, offers a reassessment of the 1920s that highlights Coolidge’s positive contributions to the nation’s progress: the federal deficit was exchanged for a surplus, and electric and automotive advances served to modernize the country.
In addition, Shlaes points out the benefits of Coolidge’s thriftiness. While most historians note that the president was cheap, Shlaes emphasizes that such thriftiness resulted in economic rewards nationwide: increased employment, enriched living standards, low taxes, and economic growth. Most significantly, Coolidge left office with a smaller federal budget than the one he inherited – something most other peacetime presidents have failed to do.
Shlaes goes on to discuss Coolidge’s economic practices in fine detail; recognizing that the president is known for focusing only on taxes, she exposes — through private White House records and previously unpublished press conference statements — that Coolidge leaned toward tax cuts as much out of moral reasoning as he did from a behavioral standpoint. In fact, Shales’ analysis indicates that Coolidge managed his own household budgeting similarly, stopping his housekeeper when she served what he deemed an excess of ham.
“Coolidge” is released at an apt time – during the beginning of a new Presidential term – and Shales certainly enlivens an example of one of the nation’s complicated and frequently misunderstood leaders.
Amity Shlaes is a trustee of the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Foundation. She is the author of “The Forgotten Man,” a national bestseller that chronicled the Great Depression; “The Greedy Hand,” a national bestseller that details America’s experience with its tax code; and “Germany: The Empire Within,” which focuses on German national identity. With Robert L. Bartley, she co-authored “Turning Intellect to Influence.” She authors a column that is published in Bloomberg View and directs the Four Percent Growth Project at the Bush Center. Shlaes has also taught history in the MBA program at New York University/Stern. She is a winner of the Hayek Prize and she currently chairs the jury for the prize.
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