Eric Hoffer was unknown in the American literary and philosophical scene in 1951 when he published his first book, The True Believer. Almost overnight, the San Francisco dockworker became a public figure, helped by a 1956 profile in Look magazine that identified Hoffer as "Ike's Favorite Author"-elevating this blue-collar working man to the level of President Eisenhower's bedside table. Recognized as a highly original thinker, he became known as the "Longshoreman Philosopher." In this book, Tom Bethell paints a new, insightful portrait of this American original. He draws much of his material from Hoffer's personal papers-acquired by the Hoover Institution in 2000-and interviews with those who knew the man, as well as his own interviews with Hoffer, conducted shortly before his death. The result is a detailed portrait of an enigmatic philosopher who was interested in probing the depths of human behavior and discovering the motivations behind the twentieth century's wars and revolutions.Hoffer's life divides into two roughly equal parts. The first part is from birth to his move to San Francisco after Pearl Harbor. The second is his life in San Francisco. Before Pearl Harbor, Hoffer's life is documented only by what he said or wrote. His best friend, Lili Osborne, summarized the difficulty: "all we know about Eric's early life is what he told us." There is a wealth of information on his later life, however, and Bethell reveals it in great detail. He tells of Hoffer's emergence as a public figure in the 1950s, a period he referred to as a "paradise of lost innocence." He details the whirlwind that was Hoffer's life in the 1960s-a decade notorious for attitudes that Hoffer grew to detest-when he became a well-known figure on the national stage. And he provides an insightful look at Hoffer's gradual withdrawal from public life until his death in 1983.
Tom Bethell is a journalist in Washington, DC, where he is a senior editor of The American Spectator. For twenty-five years he has been a visiting media fellow at the Hoover Institution, where Eric Hoffer's papers are now preserved.