Craig Fehrman’s “Author in Chief”


One of our wonderful readers just shared the review offered by Mr. Thomas Mallon, over at the Wall Street Journal, of Craig Fehrman’s new book, Author in Chief, due out on Tuesday (February 11). We certainly look forward to delving into Fehrman’s work here and it is encouraging that inside can be found long-deserved praise for what we know remains the gold standard of Presidential writers: Calvin Coolidge. Many of Coolidge’s speeches, a sampling of his best, were collected in three books: Have Faith in Massachusetts, The Price of Freedom, and Foundations of the Republic but it is his Autobiography that receives in Fehrman’s effort overdue recognition for its excellence and insight. Mr. Mallon writes:

The fortitude and unexpected writerliness involved in the creation of Grant’s book make for an impressive but familiar story. It is decades further on—after dust jackets, department-store bookselling, catalog shopping and Carnegie libraries have further transformed the publishing landscape—that Mr. Fehrman finds the unlikely, taciturn standout of “Author in Chief.” In 1920, Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge, newly famous for suppressing a labor revolt by the Boston police, secured the Republican vice-presidential nomination in large part by allowing some wealthy backers in business and advertising to promote a collection of his levelheaded, self-written (in pencil) speeches. The sampler concluded with his no-nonsense telegram to the police union: “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time.”

After ascending to the presidency, Coolidge grudgingly ceded some of its oratorical tasks to speechwriters but retook charge of his own pencil when it came to producing “The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge” (1929), a mere 45,000 words, a figure by which, in their later memoirs, Truman, Nixon and Clinton have yet to clear their throats. The succinctness of Coolidge’s book was no surprise, but its intimacy was, especially his account of the death of his teenage son in the White House: “In his suffering, he was asking me to make him well. I could not.” Mr. Fehrman is untroubled about bucking history’s progressive snobbism, which typically denies Coolidge much literary status on account of his having pursued policies less liberal and consequential than those of FDR (whom he defeated for the vice presidency in 1920).

We certainly intend to crack open Craig Fehrman’s Author in Chief soon. We hope you will too.

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