Few Americans have known greater acclaim or more bitter criticism than Herbert Hoover. The son of a Quaker blacksmith, orphaned at an early age, Hoover achieved international success as a mining engineer and worldwide gratitude as “The Great Humanitarian” who fed war-torn Europe during and after World War I. In the process he developed a unique philosophy— one balancing responsibility for the welfare of others with an unshakable faith in free enterprise and dynamic individualism. In time this would lead him to feed a billion people in fifty-seven countries.
Elected thirty-first president of the United States in a 1928 landslide, within a few short months the global hero had become a scapegoat in his own land. Even today, Hoover remains indelibly linked with the Great Depression, which put millions of his countrymen out of work in the 1930s. His 1932 defeat at the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt left Hoover’s oncebright reputation in shambles.
Yet he refused to fade away. In one of history’s most remarkable comebacks Hoover returned to public service at Harry Truman’s behest to avert global famine at the end of the Second World War and to reorganize the executive branch of government. By the time of his death in October 1964, Hoover had regained much of the luster once attached to his name.
One might presume that such a tumultuous career would appeal to historians, but it has not. Overshadowed by the impact of his successor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hoover has largely been ignored by scholars. In fact, it has been more than twenty years since the publication of David Burner’s Herbert Hoover: A Public Life, the last complete biography of this complex man. To be sure, many of the contributors to the present volume have published specialized studies of Hoover. But it has been two decades since a biographer has stepped forward to take a full measure of the man.