THE LIFE OF HERBERT HOOVER: The Engineer, 1874-1914 by George H. Nash

THE LIFE OF HERBERT HOOVER: The Engineer, 1874-1914

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KIRKUS REVIEW

At the behest of The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association, Nash is in the process of researching, writing up, and documenting the facts of Hoover's lire. This first, hefty (600 pp.) installment of a projected multi-volume biography covers Hoover's years as a mining engineer, mining executive and financier, and leaves him, at age 40, on the threshold of his first great public service, as director of Belgian war relief. If we had not recently had David Burner's penetrating account of the pre-presidential years (Herbert Hoover: A Public Lire, 1978), the very information, though excessive, would be indispensable. As it is, Nash's painstaking but unselective detailing yields few new personal insights and does little to clarify Hoover's clouded business dealings. (Paragraphs in which every statement is footnoted are no encouragement.) But the reader with a consuming interest will not go unrewarded. There is relatively little on Hoover's orphaned boyhood and only slightly more, proportionately, on his coming-of-age at brand-new, action-oriented Stanford--perhaps because those phases have been much chronicled. Nash devotes his attention, after Hoover's apprenticeship in Western mines, to the mining operations in Western Australia and China that made his name and fortune at a very early age, and their attendant financial tangles. (Subsequently, on his own, he'll invest worldwide.) We see repeated evidence of Hoover's ""strong will, combative temperament, and sensitive ego""; his ""tireless, cost-cutting, hard-driving"" efficiency; ""his brusqueness and lack of bonhomie""--but his considerateness and generosity, too. Nash also allots more than a hundred pages to the ""bizarre chain of events"" whereby Hoover-and-company fell out with the Chinese over control of China's rich Kaiping coal fields--without substantially altering Burner's assessment of the episode. Later, similarly, one looks in vain for new light on Hoover's disputed mining involvements in Russia. The problem with all this material is that Nash (The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945), alert to Hoover's traits and their future import, doesn't know any more about mining or international finance than the next person. For those interested in Hoover, therefore, the freshest and most revealing chapters are the last few--where Nash, stressing rich, reluctant-expatriate Hoover's desire for public service in the US, describes his wire-pulling as a Stanford trustee, as a lobbyist for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, and on his own behalf. . . with seine thoughts (less arresting than Burner's) on the-mind-of-the-engineer. For most purposes, a back-up book: assiduous but uninspired.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1983
Publisher: Norton