Those persistent Coolidge scholars

If you Google Coolidge Quotes, or search the wide world of WordPress blogs, the one quote that will surely come up at or near the top of the list is the one about persistence. You all know it by heart, one presumes, but here it is in its entirety:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and will always solve the problem of the human race.”

Now, in her Bloomberg column, Coolidge biographer Amity Shlaes, backed up by equally eminent scholar David Pietrusza, has shed doubt on the Coolidgean origin of these words of wisdom. Amity credits new technology, such as searchable PDF files, with the discovery that the quote had been in press years, even decades, before a New York Life Insurance Co. pamphlet attached Coolidge’s name to it in the 1930s. While the question is not settled, it appears unlikely that Coolidge is truly the originator of the phrase – but I daresay it’s been connected to him so closely in the public mind that the misattribution will prove to be “persistent.”

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