Glen Jeansonne goes beyond the presidency in
“Herbert Hoover: A Life.”
who regard Herbert Clark Hoover as little more than a
failed U.S. president know very little about Hoover.
“Herbert Hoover: A Life,” ballyhooed by Penguin
Random House publicists as “the only comprehensive
biography ever written” about the Iowa native who
occupied the White House from 1929-33, University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee emeritus history professor Glen
Jeansonne labels the life of America’s 31st chief
executive “one of undeniable accomplishment and
indefatigable industriousness.” Hoover was an
extraordinarily successful mining engineer who became,
in turn, head of the U.S. Food Administration and -
according to Jeansonne’s new book - perhaps the
greatest secretary of Commerce America has had.
“fed all of Europe, starting with Belgium, during and
after World War I,” Jeansonne told Conley Media
recently. “He saved
million from starvation.”
said he finds Hoover’s “versatility and sharpness of
mind” evocative of another
accomplished American: Benjamin Franklin.
70-year-old Louisiana native and Glendale resident,
Jeansonne responded via telephone to a reporter’s
questions. An edited transcript of the discussion
You say in your book that “Hoover placed principle
above his own political expediency” and
“persistently condemned policies, not people.” He
was, however, a loyal Republican. Would he have
supported Donald Trump for president?
think it would have been a very difficult decision for
him. In a lot of ways (Hoover) was the opposite of
Donald Trump. Hoover’s speeches weren’t bombastic.
He never denigrated the opposition. Hoover never
criticized the media - and, because of the Depression,
he got a lot worse press than Trump did. He was
self-deprecating and unselfish.
lot of Hoover’s personality can be attributed to his
Quaker background - honest and quiet, and (Quakers) work
hard to learn not to boast, to respect others, they’re
all for equality. He won the black vote not only in 1928
but in ‘32. He had a lot of respect for other people.
once said, when he was going to the polls, that any time
a man has served as president under the rubric of a
political party he can never vote against that party. So
I think he would’ve voted for Trump.
Although you acknowledge that Hoover was a
disappointment as president at the onset of the Great
Depression (1929-33), do you think any other politician
could’ve done better?
No, no I don’t. I think it’s unrealistic to believe
a president can either cause or end a Depression. The
chief factor is, the Depression was worldwide. None of
(the foreign leaders) ended the Depression. (Hoover
successor Franklin) Roosevelt didn’t end it. It took
World War II to end the Depression.
(historians) tend to blame (incumbents) for anything bad
that happens while they’re president and give them
credit for everything good. Lincoln and (the Union’s)
winning the Civil War is an example; so is FDR, who did
virtually nothing to help win (World War II). Any
president elected in ‘28 would’ve been defeated in
‘32. Hoover was a scapegoat for partisan reasons.
Roosevelt ran against him (castigating Hoover’s
administration, regardless of the actual Republican
candidate) four times. Will Rogers told the story of a
man who bit into an apple, found a worm and exclaimed,
Would you share a little information about Hoover the
man, as opposed to Hoover the political figure?
Hoover wrote 33 books, a greater legacy than any other
president save Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote one more.
Hoover wrote a book on fishing and a book about
children. He was extremely close to his own (two) sons
and had this special connection with children. He would
try to answer letters they wrote him. Regarding his
saving millions from famine in the Soviet Union in the
1920s, Hoover said, “I detest communism, but I detest
children starving more.”
and reading were favorite hobbies for Hoover; he read
two hours each day for pleasure. Hoover was a great
storyteller and he had a very good sense of humor, which
came through in his speeches after his presidency. He
had the most organized mind of any (subject) I ever
worked on. He was a great philosopher and a great human
You contend that his wife, Lou Henry Hoover, is
underrated among first ladies. How so?
She was one of the most accomplished first ladies - a
lot more than Eleanor Roosevelt. She was the first woman
at Stanford (where her future husband also studied), and
the fourth in the United States, to get a degree in
geological engineering. The Hoovers traveled the world
over and (Lou) was fluent in five foreign languages,
including Chinese. She was a gifted writer and made
hundreds of speeches, which she wrote herself (a
practice also employed by Herbert, who additionally
wrote his own legislation).
her husband, Lou Hoover was very modest. She didn’t
try to dominate conversations (as a hostess). She was
very good at going around and drawing out people. And
she was a beautiful woman, the only woman in Hoover’s
life although he outlived her by 20 years. She was not
only a helpmate; she was very brilliant in her own
If you could make Herbert Hoover magically appear just
long enough to ask him a single question, what would
that question be?
think I would ask him if, in old age (Hoover lived to be
90), he ever thought he made a mistake by going into
Hoover: A Life” and previous books by Jeansonne can be
purchased through the website glenjeansonne.com.