“The Presidency of Herbert C. Hoover” by Martin Fausold was published in 1984 and is a member of the American Presidency Series sponsored by the University Press of Kansas. Fausold was a professor of history at the State University of New York for nearly four decades, retiring in 1992. He died in 2008 at the age of 86.
This review of Hoover’s presidency is sober and scholarly and will appeal primarily to serious students of history. But it also proves unusually clear and concise – qualities the more casual reader will find attractive.
The first chapter quickly traces Hoover’s life from his Quaker-centric youth to the 1928 Republican nominating convention where he emerged as his party’s presidential nominee. Thereafter, the book focuses almost exclusively on his four years in the White House. As a result – and by design – the reader gains tremendous insight into Hoover’s presidency while missing many experiences of his early life which shaped the person (and the political leader) he was to become.
Fausold’s review of the early accomplishments of Hoover’s tenure is valuable – and will be new to readers who who thought this presidency consisted only of disappointment and failure. But, appropriately, far more attention is reserved for a discussion of the October 1929 stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. These chapters are intellectually interesting but lack charm or vitality.
Far more interesting, but less historically important, is Fausold’s exploration of the acrimonious transition between the Hoover and FDR administrations. The book finishes with a chapter that considers Hoover’s place in history, concluding that while it may be underrated in many respects (and burdened by more than its share of responsibility for the economic crisis), no meaningful positive revaluation is likely.
But while this book provides an extremely thoughtful examination of Hoover’s presidency it is a poor vehicle for getting to know him personally. His family plays almost no role in the discussion, and even within his own bubble Hoover is never really humanized. Not until the author compares the personalities of Hoover and his secretary of state (two-thirds into the book) does the reader begin to really understand Hoover’s temperament and emotional makeup.
Overall, Martin Fausold’s “The Presidency of Herbert C. Hoover” displays clear and penetrating insight on issues relating to Hoover’s presidency with just enough coverage of his early life to create minimal context. While there is much to like about this book, it will appeal primarily to readers seeking a deeper understanding of the Hoover presidency and an explanation for how such a talented man failed to respond more effectively at a time of great crisis.
Overall rating: 3½ stars