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markk

markk

Currently reading

Blood Brothers: The Story of the Strange Friendship between Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill
Deanne Stillman
Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation 1483-1521
Martin Brecht
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Reading progress update: I've read 284 out of 433 pages.

Herbert Hoover: A Public Life - David Burner

This is quite probably the most important chapter of the book, as it gets to the issue around which Herbert Hoover's legacy pivots. As Burner has been framing it, the question boils down to this: why did the man so renowned for his humanitarian successes fail as president?

 

To Burner's credit, he shows that it's not as simple as this. His presentation of the Depression as a slowly unfolding crisis is, I think, the correct way of viewing it: Hoover was not faced with a sudden economic crisis driven by the stock market collapse in October 1929 (which, IMO, is the most overhyped event in American history), but a downturn unprecedented in nature that got worse and worse with successive events. He also highlights Hoover's active response to these events, one that was quite controversial at the time and belies his subsequent reputation as a man who did nothing in response to the crisis.

 

The key, I think, is summarized nicely by Burner in a sentence on page 253: "Within this sphere, Hoover moved quickly, even innovatively; but he refused to step outside it." After reading this chapter it's difficult to deny that Hoover responded actively to the Depression, but it's also clear he was constrained by his limits. Burner makes it clear that as the economy worsened Hoover was constitutionally unable to provide the public leadership that the nation wanted, while his activist style of administration did not translate into winning Congressional cooperation (Burner's narrative here was one of the biggest revelations for me). As a result, while Burner makes a good case for seeing much of the New Deal as built upon the precedents of Hoover's response to the crisis, that in the end Hoover was unable to build anything like the New Deal, inadequate as even that proved to be.