From presidential biographer and historian Ferrell (Indiana Univ.; The Dying President?, p. 168; Harry S. Truman, 1994;...



From presidential biographer and historian Ferrell (Indiana Univ.; The Dying President?, p. 168; Harry S. Truman, 1994; Ill-Advised, 1992), a thoughtful, suitably prosaic treatment of the life, career, and legacy, such as it is, of Silent Cal. Coolidge's one enduring bon mot, ""the chief business of America is business,"" sums up his minimalist approach to managing the American economy. Ferrell tries hard to make this laconic son of Vermont an interesting figure and succeeds in showing him as honest and devoted to the public service. Neither in his hometown of Plymouth Notch, Vt., nor at Amherst College, nor in Northampton, Mass., where Coolidge settled down to become a lawyer, did he strike anyone as brilliant, but his honesty and work ethic impressed many, and he ascended quickly through local politics to the Massachusetts governorship. Coolidge's quick response to the Boston Police Strike of 1919, in which he put down the strike and sacked the striking officers, was an act of courage in the labor-dominated politics of Massachusetts and catapulted him to national prominence. He won the vice presidency on Warren Harding's ticket in 1920 and ascended to the presidency on Harding's death in 1923. Ferrell sketches the '20s as an economic boom time that concealed racial injustices, labor and farm unrest, and other problems. As Ferrell shows in some detail, Coolidge pursued a policy of nonintervention in both economic and foreign affairs, except in Latin America, where the US became bogged down in a guerrilla war in Nicaragua. Ferrell offers little insight into Coolidge's decision-making, because the president didn't often document his reasons for doing things, including his sudden announcement in 1927 that he did not ""choose"" to seek reelection in 1928. A well-researched account of American policy and society during the 1920s, which should become a standard reference, to the extent one is necessary, on this anything-but-visionary president.

Pub Date: June 29, 1998


Page Count: 264

Publisher: Univ. Press of Kansas

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1998

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