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The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  482 ratings  ·  105 reviews
When President James Garfield was shot, no one in the United States was more dismayed than his Vice President, Chester Arthur. For years Arthur had been perceived as unfit to govern, not only by critics and his fellow citizens but by his own conscience.

From his promising start, Arthur had become a political hack, a shill for Roscoe Conkling, and Arthur knew better even
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 12th 2017 by Da Capo Press
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Jan 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Scott S. Greenberger seeks to enlighten the reader with this piece on Chester A. Arthur. Who’s that, you ask? Exactly the point Greenberger seeks to rectify with this book, by providing a comprehensive biographical piece that will leave reader with something other than a knowledge of the man’s impressive facial hair. Arthur was born in rural Vermont to a fiery immigrant preacher and docile mother. His early education saw him earn good grades, though opportunities at the time were limited. With a ...more
The presidents that served after the Civil War seem to have been forgotten. Therefore, I enjoyed Greenberger’s new biography of Chester A. Arthur (1829-1886). Arthur was an attorney who was part of Roscoe Conkling’s political machine in New York. Arthur became the vice president for James A. Garfield (1831-1881) and became president on Garfield’s assassination. Arthur served as our 21st president from 1881 to 1885. He was known as a corrupt politician but managed to rise above his reputation and ...more
Mar 09, 2019 added it
Shelves: presidents
“Fame is a bubble, and broken is but suds.”

That was Chester Arthur in a philosophical mood, a sentiment spoken to him which he immediately improved upon. And acted upon.

He had been the ooziest of political cronies and without apparent shame. He got wealthy abetting corruption. But when he spoke those appropriated words he was President of the United States.

Arthur was an unlikely and accidental President, never having run for public office before becoming Vice-President and then President when
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
The grumpus23 (23-word commentary)
Chester was part of the NY machine. The country feared patronage would be rampant under his unexpected administration but bad boy makes good.
Peter Tillman
Sep 27, 2017 marked it as to-read
WSJ review, by John Steele Gordon:

"Scott S. Greenberger has written an entertaining, illuminating biography of the 21st president and the political world in which he lived. That world was one of astonishing corruption: Political organizations such as Tammany Hall routinely fleeced taxpayers of millions, and the spoils system was in full swing. But while this golden age of graft is often given short shrift in studies of American history, Mr. Greenberger
Jimmy Reagan
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Scott Greenberger brings Pres. Chester Arthur, one of our more obscure presidents, to life in this well-written biography. Though Greenberger could never redeem Arthur, he at least managed to make you appreciate Arthur’s attempt to rise above his sordid career and even feel sorry for him. Arthur was a product of his time, was nothing of a visionary, had no agenda but himself for most of his life, but gave the presidency his best shot when it literally fell into his lap.

Though hidden from the
Christie Bane
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the SECOND five-star presidential biography in a row that I've read. This book cost like $17 in the Kindle store but I am so glad I coughed up the money rather than try to power through another one in the American Presidents series.

Chester Arthur is another one of those presidents stuck in the dead zone between Lincoln and Wilson, where nothing much happened. He was a very unlikely candidate for president. He was a loyal follower of Roscoe Conkling, the senator from New York who ran the
Jun 07, 2018 rated it liked it
The title calls Arthur "unexpected" which is certainly true. Some may call him "underrated," although perhaps "underappreciated" is a better term. His life certainly exhibited an interesting turn of events. He was handsome and debonair, catching the eye of power brokers in New York. Eventually, as part of the Roscoe Conkling machine, he rose to the job of chief collector of the port of New York (the highest paying job in the Federal government; yes, outranking even President Grant). When ...more
Blaine DeSantis
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wonderful book on an overlooked President. We know little about Chester A. Arthur because he directed that his correspondence be burned and so the author has had to rely on other source material to give us a well rounded look at a man who never wanted to be President but on whom the office was thrust due to the assassination of President Garfield. He began his public career as an attorney and gained an important civil rights victory, but as time went on he sank into being a cog in the Machine ...more
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not much of a biography reader, but this book caught my attention, as Chester Arthur was completely unknown to me, except as a president in the list. I learned a lot and discovered that I want to know more about the time, particularly about the powerful NY political machine of the time.

Well worth the read!
This was a delightful biography about one of the lesser-known US Presidents.

There's this fuzzy period of US History, between the end of the Civil War and the start of WWI. Arthur is a president that gives truth to the saying that "the office changes you." He was considered one of the most corrupt politicians of the era, a bag boy for the notorious Roscoe Conkling, and part of the whole New York Machine, where patronage and cronyism were the norm. He was put on the ticket as a compromise, to
Donna Hines
Chester Arthur was unexpectedly thrust into the limelight when President James Garfield was shot deeming him next in line to govern.
Many felt for years he was unfit to handle the tedious job yet he surprised everyone in his willpower to get it done.
He was not only honest but courageous in fighting the very same that had gone against him for years in proving them all wrong.
An amazing powerful read Scott Greenberger addresses the facts of what made him unique and special of a virtually forgotten
Frank Murtaugh
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a terrific, short look at the 21st U.S. president, a man who found himself in the White House circumstantially, as opposed to the "destined" leaders we tend to read about in biographies. The assassination of James Garfield is covered thoroughly, a tragic piece of U.S. history that's been studied too little. (Part of the tragedy, you'll discover, is Arthur's unintended role in the scheme, one he had to overcome during his brief time as the country's chief executive.) This is a valuable ...more
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting look at one of the "lost presidents," his life as a machine boss in NY, and his efforts to repent of the corruption he took part in after becoming president following the death of James Garfield. Greenberger seems to have done in-depth research as far as he could, seeing that Arthur had all of his papers destroyed in a likely attempt to ensure that posterity never knew the extent of the corruption in which he took part in his earlier years.
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chester Arthur is one of a number of presidents in the mid-1800s that are hard to keep in place. He was a machine politician who did yeoman's service for the country during the Civil War. But he was also an old style machine politician under the influence of Roscoe Conkling who had a healthy skepticism of reformers. But in many ways his two and a half years betrayed his former cronies. He went on the Garfield ticket in 1880 and then found himself as President, a job he did not seek, after ...more
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Superb writing. Humanized Arthur and all the men and women of his time who in some way affected his life and the country.
Adam Yoshida
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Certainly, this is an intriguing - if slight - book. Arthur’s character and Presidency are laid out and gone through expeditiously. I’m not sure that, given the apparent lack of documentary evidence, it would be possible to do much more. Certainly I came away from it with a better understanding of President Arthur.
Joseph J.
Oct 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: 19th century history and presidential buffs
I like books about our forgotten Presidents. Chet Arthur fits the category. From humble beginnings-his father was a stern minister-Arthur rose to the heights of New York politics and society via a law degree and political advancement in an era of corrupt politics. Arthur's meager public record-he held one appointed post-would shadow his tragic ascent to the Presidency as he was a prime player in the corrupt Conkling -New York political machine. Indeed, he was placed on the 1880 Republican ticket ...more
Brian Johnston
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Chester A. Arthur has to be near the top of any list of the most obscure U.S. Presidents. Among those who actually know anything about him, he is probably best known for those long mutton chops instead of any actual achievements while in office.

Scott S. Greenberger recently undertook the daunting task of chronicling Arthur's life in his book, The Unexpected President: The Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur. (Click here to see the listing on Amazon.) We know so little about Arthur, largely
Dec 31, 2019 rated it did not like it

According to Harvard University's "Writing With Sources":
"If your own sentences follow the source so closely in idea and sentence structure that the result is really closer to quotation than to paraphrase... you are plagiarizing, even if you have cited the source. You may not simply alter a few words of your source... You need to recast your summary into your own words and sentence structure, or quote directly."

By that definition, then, "The Unexpected President" is riddled with plagiarism.

Stephen Dick
Apr 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
When telling my co-worker I was reading about Chester Arthur, he replied "who?".

Chester Arthur is one of the most obscure presidents, during a time not well known to the average American.

Greenberger does acknowledge that Arthur had his pre-presidential papers burned before he died, but when writing about his pre-presidency, it is layered in short biographies of other people. It seems he did not have enough material to write the length he wanted, and had to cover other people for pages.

If you
David Oskutis
Feb 09, 2018 rated it liked it
As far as presidential biographies go, I'd say the likes of Meacham, Chernow, and Isaacson are safe from the work of Mr. Greenberger. However, the previous mentioned authors are not bothering to tackle the "lesser known" presidents, and so shorter, half-complete feeling biographies are what remain. I don't want to sound too harsh on Mr. Greenberger's book, but I feel it lacks a bit of depth in research. Particularly on the topic of the book. In a book that is just over 240 pages, I was mildly ...more
Dec 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: u-s-presidents
Of all the biographies of the U.S. Presidents that I have read (so far I’ve read about 40 bios of about 35 presidents), this one was the most surprising in terms of enjoyment. Let’s face it, many of the ‘minor’ presidents were minor for a reason. Perhaps they just weren’t that exciting, nor did anything spectacular happen during their tenure. History has even showed us that the really bad ones (i.e. James Buchanan) get away with being anonymous many years in the future after the memory of their ...more
John Wiswell
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Greenberger presents Chester Arthur's life as a fascinating microcosm of a stretch of U.S. history. He was the son and grandson of abolitionist Christians, a commander for the North in the Civil War, a profiteer in a corrupt New York state civil service, and a man who rose to the presidency after the ignominy of the Hayes presidency.

In this book you can see how a privileged man went from wanting to escape Puritanical values for riches, embraced life as a cog in a government that swelled in
Andy Miller
Jan 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
The circumstances of Chester Arthur becoming President and his surprising Presidency are fairly known. After the reformist James Garfield was nominated for President in 1880, Republican leaders chose a member of New York's anti-reform faction, Chester Arthur, to balance the ticket. After Garfield is assassinated, the reform movement is dismayed and the machine politicians quietly look forward to a return to politics as usual, Arthur surprises both sides by continuing Garfield's reformist ...more
Michael Elkon
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it
An average book for an average President. If you are someone like me who does not like the fact that political journalists tends to focus on human interest stories and the horse race aspects of political issues and shy away from covering policies, then you will not like this book. We get plenty of details on what Chester A. Arthur liked to wear, what was served at meals, how Roscoe Conklin looked, etc. Greenberger gets these details from the newspaper stories of the age, a period of time in ...more
Michael Delaware
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this biography to be one of the most interesting ones I have read on the Presidents. Chester A. Arthur is a President that many have forgotten, and few could name if asked these days. Not surprising, as he destroyed most all of his papers after he left the White House before he died. The only records on his time in the office was the newspapers, some personal letters and a legislative records during his tenure.
Having started out with a background in corrupt politics, he found himself
The timing of this book's release couldn't have been any better. After just finishing a book about James Garfield (our 20th President) I was eager to read a book about our 21st - and then this appeared! He truly was "unexpected" after assuming the office upon Garfields's death just months after Garfield took office. The expectations were low as he was previously a New York "machine" hack and got the spot on the ticket to appease the Empire State's political class. Little was expected of him and ...more
This book was hard to really sink my teeth into. This is mostly due to the fact that Chester Arthur, like many of the lesser known Presidents in American history, is portrayed as a very dull and uninteresting person. He had far fewer political aspirations than most Presidents. His main goal was wealth, which hooked him up with a political power player Roscoe Conkling. They were members of a political "machine" that helped award jobs to people around New York and influence elections. Arthur was ...more
Steve Harvey
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
On a Sunday morning in 1857, a century before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, an African-American woman named Elizabeth Jennings boarded a horse-drawn bus in New York City, heading to church. The buses were segregated by custom, but not by law. Elizabeth didn't have time to wait for one of the infrequent buses for blacks, so she boarded one for whites.

The conductor tried without success to deny her access. He and the driver then joined forces to try to throw her off, again without
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