The Life of Herbert Hoover: Masters of Emergencies, 1917-1918

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National Review has called a "magisterial work of scholarship on one of our least-known presidents, and an important era in American history."

The entry of the United States into the First World War in late 1911 found Herbert Hoover at a crossroads. Three years earlier, he had been a successful mining engineer in London. Then, as the war intensified in Europe, Hoover founded and led the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which provided ...

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Overview

National Review has called a "magisterial work of scholarship on one of our least-known presidents, and an important era in American history."

The entry of the United States into the First World War in late 1911 found Herbert Hoover at a crossroads. Three years earlier, he had been a successful mining engineer in London. Then, as the war intensified in Europe, Hoover founded and led the Commission for Relief in Belgium, which provided desperately needed fuel to more than nine million Belgian and French citizens trapped between the German army of occupation and the British naval blockade. That emergency undertaking eventually evolved into one of the greatest humanitarian enterprises in history. It also brought Hoover into international prominence.

Here Herbert Hoover moves toward Washington and center stage in his own country. Shortly after the United States's declaration of war, he entered into able service under Woodrow Wilson as a member of the President's War Cabinet and U.S. Food Administration. His goal was to standardize food production to control surging food prices, and to create surpluses of exportable foodstuffs for America's allies. "Food will win the war" became Hoover's slogan.

Hoover encountered the tumult of district politics and became both agent and catalyst of the moment in American lives when a traditionally decentralized economy was coming under price control and other forms of governmental restraint. We see Hoover as builder and bureaucrat, a man who brought force, drive, and ability into the service of his country.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal
“Thanks to Mr. Nash's immense skill as a scholar-biographer, we can at last begin to see Herbert Hoover whole. Succeeding volumes will surely make this one of the great biographies in American political history.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Food will win the war," proclaimed engineer-turned-bureaucrat Herbert Hoover, with a tinge of self-promotion, as head of the U.S. Food Administration, the WWI agency responsible for feeding America's troops overseas. While cloaking his efforts in the comforting language of voluntarism, the nervous, high-strung food czar, incessantly smoking Havana cigars, used a mix of price controls, exhortations, constraints and propaganda to seduce the general populace into eating less and reducing waste so our fighting forces could get adequate food supplies. As chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, Hoover orchestrated a massive emergency operation that provided desperately needed food to millions of Belgian and French citizens trapped between the German army of occupation and the British naval blockade. Hoover became a hero to legions of American housewives, middle-class professionals and businessmen, though farmers, livestock producers and middlemen saw him as a meddling, insensitive outsider, an image that dogged the future president all the way to the White House. In this absorbing third installment of a multivolume biography, Nash, a historian of conservatism, reconstructs an important chapter in American history. Photos. May
Library Journal
This is the third volume in the author's ongoing biography of the 31st president. The first volume, The Engineer LJ 3/1/83, covered the first 40 years of Hoover's life; the second, The Humanitarian LJ 10/15/88, covered the years from 1914 to 1917. Since the current volume covers only slightly over a year and half and ends with Hoover still a decade away from his election as president, one hesitates to imagine how many more volumes will be required to bring the project to completion. As in the case of the earlier volumes, the current work is painstakingly researched and solidly written. It should be acquired by any library owning the first two volumes and by all academic and research libraries specializing in U.S. history. For public libraries desiring a less exhaustive treatment of the subject, such earlier, single-volume biographies as Joan Hoff Wilson's Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive 1975 or Richard Norton Smith's An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover LJ 6/15/84-both of which are currently in print-will probably suffice. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/96.]-Scott K. Wright, Univ. of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn.
Kirkus Reviews
The third volume of Nash's definitive biography further enhances the stature of a too often disparaged great American.

Nash begins with the US entry into WW I in April 1917, at a point when Hoover's extraordinary humanitarian efforts had already saved nearly ten million Belgians and French from starvation. Nash records the myriad problems Hoover faced when President Wilson made him the national "food administrator," charged with ensuring that Americans had enough to eat while still exporting sufficient food to keep the embattled Allies in the war. Hoover was labeled the "food dictator" by hostile Farm Belt congressmen when he tried to mobilize and impose national controls on agriculture, and he quickly aroused the ire of farmers as well. But the former mining engineer was right: He clearly foresaw the problems of runaway inflation and serious food shortages as countries bid for food on the open market during panic times. Ironically, this quintessentially individualist businessman fought for, and got, strict government control of food production, food prices, and export quotas. As Nash shows, Hoover's finely tuned management abilities and determination accomplished the impossible: Neither Americans nor their allies went hungry. ("Food will win the war," Hoover argued, and Wilson listened.) He sketches a portrait of an intelligent, exceedingly complex man who lacked social graces but, in contrast to his tough exterior, frequently cried in private at the plight of the Belgian people. He was a marvel of dedication and hard work. Nash leaves the "Great Engineer" using his formidable abilities in the postWW I world to halt the spread of Communism over a devastated Europe by monitoring food distribution.

Nash's well-researched reporting of Hoover's public life in 191718 should be of interest to scholars, but for the general reader, an entire volume covering two years in Hoover's life may offer more detail than they need.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393038415
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/17/1996
  • Series: Life of Herbert Hoover Ser.
  • Pages: 672
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.90 (d)

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