Feature

Best books...chosen by Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes is a Bloomberg columnist and a senior fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.

Amity Shlaes is a Bloomberg columnist, the author of The Forgotten Man, and a senior fellow at the George W. Bush Institute. Below, she names six books she drew inspiration from while writing her new best-selling Calvin Coolidge biography.

Coolidge: An American Enigma by Robert Sobel (Regnery, $20). Every biographer confronts a book that makes him question whether a new bio is necessary. Written only 15 years ago, Sobel’s book is a pretty good, indeed more than good, biography of Coolidge. It covers an area that matters: Coolidge’s fiscal policy.

Mellon by David Cannadine (Vintage, $23). It was said that President Coolidge and Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon “conversed in pauses.” Cannadine provides insight into their relationship as well as the reasons that U.S. leaders—Mellon and authorities at the Fed—wanted to keep interest rates low: They were trying to prevent war in Europe.

Your Son, Calvin Coolidge edited by Edward Lathem (out of print). A meticulously edited collection of Coolidge’s letters to his father, who served in Vermont’s state legislature after Calvin had begun his own political rise. “It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones,” the younger Coolidge advised.

Government Project by Edward C. Banfield (out of print). The Casa Grande settlement was a failed New Deal–era collective farm, a sort of Animal Farm or kibbutz of the Roosevelt period. This book reminded me why more needs to be known about Coolidge.

Crowded Years by William Gibbs McAdoo (out of print). McAdoo was a brilliant Treasury secretary whose eloquence obscured the arrogance of his method. Here’s a typical McAdoo-ism, on the subject of how much to borrow to fund America’s entry into the Great War: “I had formed a tentative conclusion as to the amount of the first loan. It ought to be, I thought, $3 billion. I can hardly tell you how I arrived at the sum…. I am sure that the deciding influence in my mind was not a mass of statistics, but what is commonly called a ‘hunch.’”

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (Univ. Press of the Pacific, $27.50). Our subjects are their own best biographers. Only Coolidge can properly tell of some of Coolidge’s burdens, including the tragic death of his 16-year-old son, Calvin Jr.

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