Hoover: an ex­tra­or­di­nary Life in ex­tra­or­di­nary times

Ken­neth Whyte (Knopf, $35)

Forbes - - FACT & COMMENT -

WISE HISTORIANS KNOW BET­TER than to pi­geon­hole no­table fig­ures—things are of­ten just too com­plex—and with no per­son has this been more true than Her­bert Hoover, our 31st pres­i­dent. On one hand, he is one of his­tory’s great­est hu­man­i­tar­i­ans, whose ex­tra­or­di­nary and truly in­no­va­tive ef­forts lit­er­ally saved tens of mil­lions of peo­ple from star­va­tion in Europe dur­ing and af­ter World War I. John May­nard Keynes was not alone at the time in re­gard­ing Hoover as one of the most out­stand­ing men of his age. In an era when Wash­ing­ton never in­volved it­self in dis­as­ter re­lief, Hoover, on his own ini­tia­tive as com­merce sec­re­tary, un­der­took and bril­liantly di­rected a mas­sive ef­fort to al­le­vi­ate the im­mense suf­fer­ing wrought by the great Mis­sis­sippi flood of 1927. With­out his de­ci­sive in­ter­ven­tion, the loss of life would have been in­cal­cu­la­bly worse. On the other hand, in 1933 Hoover left the pres­i­dency, af­ter one term, as prob­a­bly the most vil­i­fied and hated in­di­vid­ual ever to oc­cupy the White House. He was car­i­ca­tured as cold and in­dif­fer­ent to the un­prece­dented hu­man hard­ships brought on by the Great De­pres­sion. This great­est of eco­nomic disas­ters be­gan on Hoover’s watch, and he was seen as in­ca­pable of suc­cess­fully

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