Herbert Hoover by William E. Leuchtenburg

Poor Herbert Hoover. That’s what I’ve always thought.

But, as I struggled to get through this book (I have trouble reading books whose characters, real or fictitious, I do not like), I began to think I was wrong about that. Not only was Hoover personally disagreeable (while reading, I jotted the words “ill-natured cold fish,” but then wondered if I were being too harsh […nope]); he was a spotlight hog; he was a big government spender (but only when it suited him) disguised as a free market guy; as Secretary of Commerce, he took over the domains of other cabinet secretaries without presidential approval; and he had some truly peculiar social habits.

Of course, there are many positive things one can say, too. He famously coordinated shipments of food to those starving in Belgium and elsewhere in Europe after World War I, saving countless lives. He issued an executive order that created the Veterans Administration and wrote a “Child’s Bill of Rights.” He was quite brilliant, and he was a ridiculously productive worker in just about every endeavor he undertook. During his years as Commerce Secretary and his first year as President, he was pretty darn impressive.

I’ve tended to think of him as a victim of circumstance—being dealt the Great Depression, which was the one thing he somehow could not handle effectively. But after reading this book, it seems to me that he could have employed many of the tactics he used during his relief work for Belgium—spending government money to help those in need here in the U.S. But it seems he had a mental block and could not make it happen. And most certainly, it is easy for me to sit here in my comfortable little life and criticize the poor man. But really.

It truly pains me to speak such of a fellow Iowa native.* But I just cannot bring myself to include Herbert Hoover in my blanket statement that “I Love the Presidents.” Which makes me feel quite mean, and makes me think this statement actually stands:
Poor (unloved) Herbert Hoover.

* I am feeling particularly guilty because my tiny little hometown was once also the girlhood home of his remarkable wife Lou Henry Hoover for a short time. Though the fact that I never learned that in elementary school—and only came across the fact when in my 30s—is truly appalling. What the heck kind of Iowa history was I being taught in fourth grade, for the love of Mike? Why didn’t they traipse all of us earnest little souls out to the edge of town where her family lived, to ogle the site? I’d truly’ve been a little bit thrilled.