Seldom is my impression of a public figure transformed so completely by single text. Whyte provides an honest and informative account of Hoover’s terrifically interesting life, while avoiding the common biographer’s pitfall of hagiography. Hoover happens to be present for many of the early twentieth century’s pivotal events, such that his biography is not only the story of a man but the story of the decades he passed through. Following his journey from the Boxer Rebellion to JFK’s election, events that are often presented as distant beads upon a string and pulled together into the tapestry of a single lifetime, placed in a continuity rarely captured in broad histories of the period.

Hoover himself is a fascinating character — above all earnest and competent, yet at times bitter and hypocritical. His devotion to evidence based leadership was entirely absent from my perception of him from common schoolhouse history. In each of those texts, he is portrayed as merely a bumbling pre-amble to the economic prowess of FDR, rather than an intellectual giant, regardless of your alignment with his policy goals.

Perhaps the most curious point in his life comes during his post presidential conversion to conservatism in a direct about-face from his former progressive positions. To the best of my deduction, his later political alignment stemmed from personal animus toward FDR, rather than a concrete set of policy objectives. His story serves to highlight how the social microstructure of high level operators can shape the decisions of whole political superstructures, however small and personal the inciting divides or affinities.

Whyte’s recount is riveting in the first three quarters, but drags considerably in Hoover’s post presidential period.