HERBERT HOOVER by William E. Leuchtenberg
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Slim, thoroughly satisfying account of the president overwhelmed by the Great Depression.

Veteran historian Leuchtenburg (The White House Looks South: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, 2005, etc.) makes no attempt to rehabilitate Hoover (1874–1964), though he acknowledges that the brilliantly successful entrepreneur quickly became a worldwide celebrity after turning to public service at age 40. In London at the outbreak of World War I, Hoover agreed to organize relief for the famine that followed the German advance into Belgium and performed superbly. Widely touted as a 1920 presidential candidate, he offended Republican leaders with a self-serving statement announcing that he would join their party only if it fulfilled certain conditions. Newly elected Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover Secretary of Commerce even though colleagues resented his dictatorial manner, and his nonstop energy made him a media icon. When Coolidge declined to run in 1928, the fact that he and his cabinet detested Hoover did not prevent him from easily winning the nomination. Leuchtenburg disagrees with historians who feel that Hoover would rank among our better presidents if it were not for the Depression. Even before the 1929 crash, his lack of political acumen and terrible relations with Congress had soured most supporters. He made genuine attempts to alleviate the Depression but opposed federal relief programs, insisting that this was the responsibility of local government and private charities, which were doing a good job. (In fact, they were bankrupt.) Leaving office, he was so widely hated that Republicans considered him political poison and kept him away from conventions until after WWI.

A brilliantly written cautionary tale for those who believe a hard-nosed businessman would bring a breath of fresh air to the American presidency.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8050-6958-7
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2008


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