In Defense of Herbert Hoover

Herbert Hoover has gotten a bum rap. If he is not being conflated with a vacuum cleaner magnate or the first director of the FBI, chances are our 31st president is recalled as a synecdoche for the Great Depression, an event over which he ably presided, but did not—and could not—bring to an end. Assessed poorly by political scientists, ignored by historians in favor of more exciting fare, and painted as a fool by partisan journalists, even-handed political biographies on Hoover are a treat; but well-written, steely-eyed assessments of the man are a gift, and this is what one receives in Charles Rappleye’s Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency.

The New Russian Empire

Vladimir Putin

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in early March 2014 and subsequent confrontational policies in the Middle East and parts of Europe have spawned myriad debates assessing Vladimir Putin’s ambitions and their implications for global security. Many of these discussions conclude that Russia seeks little more than a revival of Soviet-era influence in the near abroad–that is, nations bordering Russia.

Agnia Grigas takes a different tack in her informative and well-researched work. Seeing Putin’s Russia as a “challenger rather than partner with the West,” Grigas states that the “central argument of this book is that … there has been an increasing tendency in Russian foreign policy toward reimperialization of the post-Soviet space … to gradually rebuild its historic empire.”

New York Values

If New York City had guided the country, America probably would not have rebelled against King George III. For that matter, if New York had set the national tone, the North probably would not have fought the Civil War, and the South would have been allowed to secede into the Confederacy. At least since the early 1900s, when New York overtook Boston to become the nation’s largest cultural center, the city has prided itself on being the Great City of America. But the truth is that New York doesn’t march comfortably alongside the rest of the country. The Pied Piper of Manhattan has never managed to make much of America follow.

A Sloppy Hit on Israel

Go to a library and toss a coin at the Israel shelf. You’re almost certain to bounce it off a title critical of the Jewish state. The latest contribution to this death by a thousand books is Zionism: The Birth and Transformation of an Ideal by journalist Milton Viorst. At the heart of this book is the assumption that Israel is wholly to blame for the conflict between Jews and Arabs.