Whyte, “Hoover”

9780307597960I’ve often thought that Herbert Hoover is an under-appreciated and under-studied figure. One of the great humanitarians of the twentieth century, whose executive skill was essential in feeding millions in Europe after World War I, he is, I suspect, unfairly assigned too much blame for the Great Depression. (Even Harry Truman said so, as I remember). And he is also, I suspect, unfairly blamed for one of the last anti-Catholic campaigns in American history, the election of 1928, in which he soundly defeated New York Governor Al Smith, who carried only the solid South. Hoover didn’t make religion an issue in that campaign, although his surrogates did–and Hoover certainly benefitted. Anyway, it seems to me wrong simply to dismiss Hoover, as so many do. A new book from Penguin Random House offers what looks like a valuable rehabilitation. Here’s a description of the book, Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times, by author Kenneth Whyte, from the publisher’s website:

The definitive biography of Herbert Hoover, one of the most remarkable Americans of the twentieth century–a revisionist account that will forever change the way Americans understand the man, his presidency, and his battle against the Great Depression.

A poor orphan who built a fortune, a great humanitarian, a president elected in a landslide and then routed in the next election, arguably the father of both New Deal liberalism and modern conservatism–Herbert Hoover is also one of our least understood presidents, conventionally seen only as a heartless failure for his handling of the Great Depression.

Kenneth Whyte fully captures this rich, dramatic life: from Hoover’s difficult childhood to his meteoric business career, his work saving hundreds of thousands of lives during World War I and after the 1927 Mississippi floods, his presidency, his painful defeat by Roosevelt, and his return to grace as Truman’s emissary to help European refugees after World War II. Whyte brings to life Hoover’s complexity and contradictions–his modesty and ambition, ruthlessness and extreme generosity–as well as his political legacy. Here is the epic, poignant story of the poor boy who became the most accomplished figure of his time, who worked ceaselessly to fight the Depression yet became the public face of America’s greatest economic crisis. Here, for the first time, is the definitive biography that captures the full scale of this extraordinary life.

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