Chester Alan Arthur by Zachary Karabell
The American Presidents Series: The 21st President, 1881-1885 (American Presidents (Times))

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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.


About Zachary Karabell

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Zachary Karabell was educated at Columbia, Oxford and Harvard, where he received his PhD. in 1996. He is the author of several books, including The Last Campaign, which won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Award, and Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Foreign Policy, and Newsweek. He lives with his wife and two children in New York, where he is an executive vice president of a leading asset management firm.
Published June 21, 2004 by Times Books. 189 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

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Freelance historian Karabell (Parting the Desert, 2003, etc.) has the unenviable task, in this latest in Arthur Schlesinger’s American presidents series, of chronicling the life and times of Chester Arthur (1829–86), who “belongs to two select, and not altogether proud, clubs: presidents who came...

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Publishers Weekly

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Charting a career that catapulted Arthur to the presidency after James Garfield's assassination, Karabell investigates whether Arthur was an active reformer or a mere""placeholder."" To frame this challenge, he explores the post-Civil War era's simmering politics, which hinged on the""spoils syst...

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