Book Review: Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times

I think I’ve mentioned on here before, I’m on a quest to read a biography about every president. I just finished up a biography on Herbert Hoover: Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times by Kenneth Whyte. This makes the 23rd biography I’ve read, so I’m halfway through now. I’ve always liked history and think it’s good to learn from people that have had tough positions to fulfill and had to make tough decisions.

Anyways, about the book. I actually struggled to get into this book. It seemed like it didn’t flow well for me, until we got to the part of the book that discussed after his Presidency. This might have been that I was only reading 5 pages at a time for the first 3/4 of the book. I definitely wouldn’t say don’t read the book because I said it didn’t flow well.

What I find amazing is that a lot (not all) of our Presidents after the 1820’s and before the 1940’s came from nothing. They were poor, unlike what we see today. Hoover was poor and not the best student in the classroom, but through hard work was able to make something out of himself. He was a pretty decent engineer and very good at resource allocation.

What strikes me in this era, was that people that wanted a political position would always act like they didn’t want it. Behind the scenes and through friends they would be pushing to get the position. Hoover did this through his whole political career. It kind of baffles my mind, because he (others) would get upset if they didn’t get the position they wanted. How was the other person suppose to know? Different time and different culture than today, I get that.

It seemed that Hoover discredited his political opponents as not being worthy adversaries. He did this with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and that costed Hoover a second term. Although the great depression was going on during the election, many thought Hoover was doing all he could do as a President. Hoover didn’t think it was appropriate to go out and campaign for his second term. Compared to today’s political culture, he made very few speeches to campaign for a second term in the last month before the election. Nothing like today’s political culture where one the election is done, the next election campaigning seems to start. What is funny is, that Hoover actually wanted FDR as an opponent.

Hoover also did a lot of charity work, and most of it was in secret. He donated a lot of money to the Hoover Camps (mostly homeless and mostly veterans camping on the White House grounds) out of his own money. He was against using federal money to assist the out of work, and thought it should come more from the private sectors. He did follow through personally with his own money. He would play with kids on the playgrounds and when his staff wanted him to do it the next day, so cameras from the newspapers could be there, he refused. His wife also burned a lot of letters that came in from people struggling from the great depression, she said that they were good people, down on their luck and didn’t deserve to be documented in history in an embarrassing way.

Just to give an example of how bad the great depression was and the fear that all banks would crash and close up or run out of money. Hoover himself withdrew cash from the banks from his personal accounts for fear he would not have money. That says a lot about how much fear there was that the President of the United States was worried about not having money personally. Again, a different time and era.

There was a lot of discussion about his feelings on the New Deal that FDR put in place. Also a lot of stats on how little it really helped boost the economy, except for a few months. Definitely something I’ll have to research more.

All in all, the book was good and informative. I had been to Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library a few years ago, but before reading this book, didn’t know a whole lot about him. That’s what I like about reading on some of the lesser known presidents, because you learn so much as they’re not covered in school like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and JFK. I would suggest the book as a good read for anyone that likes history and especially about presidents. Probably not a book if that’s not your interest, as I said, I found it a little difficult to read.

(There is a link to the book at the top if you’re interested. Full disclosure, I am an Amazon Associate so I do make a profit for anything sold)

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