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Books: Throwback

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A PURITAN IN BABYLON: The Story of Calvin Coolidge—William Allen White—Macmillan ($3.50).

In spite of its subject—one of the most negative Presidents the U. S. ever had— orrl the fact that Country Editor William Allen White voted for Coolidge and wrote a partisan biography in 1925, this biography is a sharpshooting, puncturing book, at once the most human portrait of Coolidge the man, the most devastating portrait of Coolidge the politician, and the best account of the Coolidge bull market that has yet appeared.

Since 1925, 70-year-old William Allen White has done a lot of studying about Coolidge, “one of the most curious human problems that as a reporter I have ever confronted.” Coolidge, he concluded, was “a perfect throwback to the more primitive days of the Republic . . . ? waxwork figure of a Puritan boy, out of the social museum that is rural Vermont.” and remained throughout his career a 100-year time lag personified. Most of the evidence—Coolidge’s penny-pinching, picklish personality, Yankee cunning, sentimentality, provincialism—fits Author White’s thesis. Placed against the teeming, speculative post-War U. S., Coolidge offers one of the most ironic studies in U. S. politics and Author White makes the most of the contrasts.

Other biographers, unable to understand how Coolidge got into the White House in the first place, have emphasized “Coolidge luck.” Author White explains it more intelligibly in terms of post-War psychology, which, unwilling to face the realities of a changed world, picked Coolidge as the best equipped to lead an escape to the past.

The final irony of Coolidge’s life was that he began to catch up on his times only when he was out of office. Retired to Northampton, turning out his autobiography at $5 a word and a short syndicated column at $3.25 a word, brooding disgustedly over Hoover’s shortcomings, watching his gilt-edged investments sink lower & lower, Coolidge at last confessed private doubt that “the business of America is business.” “In other periods of depression,” he admitted, “it has always been possible to see some things which were solid and upon which you could base hope, but as I look back I can see nothing to give ground for hope, nothing of man. But there is still religion. . . . That continues as a solid base for hope and courage.”

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