The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur, Scott Greenberger, 2017

Chester A. Arthur is the name of our 21st President as well as one of the answers to the question:  What two American Presidents were born in Vermont?  Coolidge is an easy one; nobody knows Arthur, and he was born in Fairfield, VT where his itinerant, fundamentalist, abolitionist preacher father had a small congregation.  Arthur’s time in VT was brief, only a few months, though he did return after Union College to be the principal in a school in North Pownal.  The story of the rise of this ‘party boss’ who had never held elected office to the Presidency is fascinating as is his transformation in office from the champion of patronage to the signer of the Pendleton Civil Service Act.  The Gilded Age issues that confronted Arthur from 1881-1884 are strikingly parallel to those we face today:  immigration, protection of National Parklands, the intrusion of party patronage and special interests into the Federal judiciary and bureaucracy, and the build up of the military.  Arthur surprised almost everyone by being a judicious, fair-minded, and effective Chief Executive.  Greenberger makes the potentially dry material of American history come alive and the book often reads like a novel.