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Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell
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Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell


President Chester Alan Arthur is one of those presidents that when mentioned in general public gets a “Who? He was a president?” Yeah, so they can’t all do great, memorable things. Poor guy. And when seeing how small this biography is, it doesn’t help his case – although it is mentioned in Editor’s Notes that this book is “compact for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, and authoritative enough for the scholar.”

So who was this guy? Well, he took over for Garfield after his assassination. Arthur didn’t want to be president and no one expected much of him. He did some good stuff in his time, mostly went with the flow, and miraculously stayed out of trouble and allegation. He was an interesting president in his own right, just a sadly forgotten one. I enjoyed this book and I think it gave a good, broad overview of this president and his life. However, I still would have liked further details – it just seemed to lack so much. So much like the president, neither good nor bad, I give this book a similar judgment – putting it right down the middle in my rating.
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  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
My thoughts were Arthur except for the Pendleton Act did not accomplish much. His career before the White House involved amassing a good income and assets. He did not desire the presidency but performed honorably when it was thrust upon him. During this era Congress ruled and the executive could not accomplish much. A more thorough book would have revealed more about Arthur and his motivations. Like Hayes he was unable to become a leader of his party. I am not sure a more involved study of Arthur would have been worth the time or the effort. I felt this cursory review of Arthur was really all I needed to know about him.

Thus I will give the book 3.5 stars. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
I thought it was an excellent biography of this forgotten and reluctant president, considering the small format of this 'The American Presidents' series. Civil service reform will always be associated with Chester Arthur name. I thought that he played a major role in pushing Peddleton's act - which made for a great story of politician transformed by being thrust into center of that debate by assassination of President Garfield - and deciding to follow Garfield policy because it was the right thing to do. This book presents a more prosaic narrative. Arthur wasn't a leading force in pushing civil service reform but rather allowed this process to proceed and gently facilitating it, thus making it a success. ( )
  everfresh1 | May 21, 2015 |
There are few books which tell of the life of the 21st President of the United States - possibly because he was controversial at the time, possibly because he wasn't elected but was thrust into the office by an assassin's bullet, possibly because he never wanted to be President.

There are few details other than the historical records because Arthur had his papers destroyed upon his death. But his short administration did have its accomplishments. Civil Service reform was the major achievement. ( )
  cyderry | Jan 31, 2013 |
Chester Arthur was at best a reluctant President. It wasn't that he didn't think he was up to the job - it's just that he didn't want it. Before his election as Vice President in 1880, he had never even run for office. Rather, he had served in a series of increasingly high-level appointed positions, leading to his service running the customhouse of the Port of New York, one of the most important offices in the US at the time. So how did it happen that he became the 21st President?

Above all, Arthur was a party man, through and through. And the party called. He spent his career as a supporting player for more able leaders of the political machine - primarily Roscoe Conkling, Senator and leader of the Stalwart Republican faction. When James Garfield won a surprise nomination at the Republican convention, Arthur was useful as an olive branch to Conkling to represent the interests of the Stalwarts in the distribution of spoils after victory. Then Garfield was shot, and three months later, Chester Arthur became President.

Arthur wasn't a bad President. The nation was going through a time of relative peace and prosperity, so there weren't any big issues he had to face. Except one - patronage in the Civil Service. Surprisingly, Arthur, who benefited his entire career from the spoils system became the champion for Civil Service reform. Following a clear mandate from the people (and playing for political advantage), a Republican-led lame duck Congress passed the Pendleton CIvil Service Act with Arthur's encouragement and assistance, leading to merit-based government hiring, and some say, to the bureaucratic tangle that is government today.

Zachary Karabell's Chester Alan Arthur is a very good addition to The American Presidents series edited by Arthur Schlesinger. Karabell is honest in his evaluation of Chester Arthur's presidency and his impact on history while also giving a good sense of who Arthur was as a man of the late 19th century. At the end of the day, Arthur became for me more than just a mostly forgotten name on a list of Presidents, and that's the mark of a good historian and biographer. ( )
1 vote drneutron | Nov 15, 2010 |
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"Chet Arthur? President of the United States? Good God!" It was not exactly what he would have wanted to hear, but then again, it was not exactly the best way to become president.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805069518, Hardcover)

The Gilded Age bon vivant who became America's unlikeliest chief executive-and who presided over a sweeping reform of the system that nurtured him

Chester Alan Arthur never dreamed that one day he would be president of the United States. A successful lawyer, Arthur had been forced out as the head of the Custom House of the Port of New York in 1877 in a power struggle between the two wings of the Republican Party. He became such a celebrity that he was nominated for vice president in 1880-despite his never having run for office before.
Elected alongside James A. Garfield, Arthur found his life transformed just four months into his term, when an assassin shot and killed Garfield, catapulting Arthur into the presidency. The assassin was a deranged man who thought he deserved a federal job through the increasingly corrupt "spoils system." To the surprise of many, Arthur, a longtime beneficiary of that system, saw that the time had come for reform. His opportunity came in the winter of 1882-83, when he pushed through the Pendleton Act, which created a professional civil service and set America on a course toward greater reforms in the decades to come.
Chester Arthur may be largely forgotten today, but Zachary Karabell eloquently shows how this unexpected president-of whom so little was expected-rose to the occasion when fate placed him in the White House.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:17 -0400)

Describes the life and times of unlikely chief executive Chester Alan Arthur, who was propelled into the presidency after James Garfield's assassination, and his efforts to make sweeping reforms in America's political system.

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