A Review of Eugene Lyons’ Herbert Hoover: A Biography

Hoover birthplace cottage, West Branch, Iowa.
Image via Wikipedia

“But personally, having studied his many lives with considerable diligence, I lean to the belief that in Hoover’s case it will be largely irrelevant how he is ranked in arbitrary assessments of presidential greatness. His life, I am convinced, will be measured less by what he did– colossal though it has been-than by what he was. Already, in fact, his country-men instinctively appraise him in moral rather than conventional political terms. They think of him, if  at all, not primarily as a President, however rated, but as a great American and a great human being – as truly good man, whose compassion reached out to embrace all humankind.” (Italics his)

So concludes Eugene Lyons assessment of our 31st President, Herbert Hoover.

Warmly, but honestly, written, Lyons’ biography, (published under this title in 1964 as a second edition to his first bio of Hoover in 1947) provides an honest assessment of a President who lived longer than any other President after leaving office. (1933 to 1964)

Lyons, whose own life was quite a story, sketches Hoover’s journey from West Branch, Iowa (the first President born west of the Mississippi) to Oregon to be raised by relatives (he had become an orphan due to the death of his mother and father) and then on to become a member of the first class at the newly opened Stanford University in 1891.

As he writes, Lyons notes Hoover’s strong work ethic that would created a deep and loyal following among people of many nations and a cadre of persons that would work for him for many years. Lyons also notes of Hoover’s quick thinking and assessment abilities in the field as a mining engineer.

In fact, Lyons does a thorough job of tracing the development of Hoover’s humanitarian heart and abilities through two World Wars. As he does so, Hoover’s leadership abilities are easily displayed.

In the segment dealing with service to the Harding and Coolidge administrations, Lyons notes Hoover’s conservative lifestyle starkly contrasted to Harding’s more active one while perhaps finding more of a fit in the quieter and equally conservative Coolidge entourage.

Lyons effectively seeks to redeem Hoover’s character and Presidential effectiveness from the mudslinging of the 30’s and 40’s when, from his perspective, he was snubbed by FDR and the rest of the nation. The challenging of assumptions about who was responsible for the depression is a highlight of the book.

But, while singing the praises of Hoover and his compassionate character across the decades, Lyons makes one thing clear. Hoover was not at his best as President.

There is more to this biography than I can write in a succinct way. Capably and honest written, Lyons’ work on our 31st President will provide the reader with a comprehensive, honest, and fair assessment of the life of our 31st President.


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