Successful In One Job, A Failure In Another (Podcast)


Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, is generally considered to have been a dismal failure as chief executive. Less well known is the fact that he was a brilliantly successful organizer of humanitarian projects around the world before he became president. Among those successes was his Russian famine relief operation in the early 1920s.  His career illustrates the principle that no man is capable at everything. As leaders we should focus on evaluating character and talent, and seek to find the right person for the right job.


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Presented by Fortress of the Mind Productions.  

6 thoughts on “Successful In One Job, A Failure In Another (Podcast)

  1. One other thing you might be interested in as a scholar of Latin, Quintus, is that Hoover and his wife translated Agricola’s book “De Re Metallica”. That book was the standard textbook on mining and geology for several centuries. As far as I know, their translation is still the standard English translation from the original.
    I remember hearing somewhere that Hoover had vast investments in the Caspian oilfields in Tsarist times, and lost a huge fortune when the Bolsheviks took control.
    Interesting now to ponder his anachronistic place in history, in light of what a dynamic guy he must have been.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow…I did not know that Hoover had translated Agricola. Fantastic…I’m glad you told me this because it confirms what I and others have said before: sometimes the best work comes from outside the “halls of professional academia.” Hoover knew his trade and was passionate about mining, knew Latin, and was much better placed to translate Agricola than some stuffshirt who had never done anything else. The proof is in the final result, as always. (And for my part, I strongly believe my military and legal background make me better placed to bring a fresh perspective on the Latin rhetorical and military classics than someone else. It was so with “On Duties,” and will be so again later this year, when a new work is released. You just wait.)


  2. Well I never really thought about it that way, but Hoover himself is quoted in the Britannica as saying that Agricola was the first to “use research and observation, as opposed to previous fruitless speculation”. So it seems to have been a strand in Hoover’s thinking.

    It’s interesting that the development of geology as a field was hampered by these elitist academic attitudes for a long time.

    The sub-discipline “economic geology” – the geology of ore deposits- wasn’t properly systematized and incorporated into the larger field until the end of the nineteenth century. The mine engineers and miners had collected a wealth of knowledge in the course of their work. But for years the academics disregarded the underground guys as “not real scientists”, just a bunch of guys grubbing around in the dark.

    There was also the case of William Smith, the surveyor in England in the early 1800s, who created the first geologic map. It then took twenty years of rejection and financial straits before the periwigs at the Royal Society finally recognized his brilliance. His map is a work of genius and his interpretation of British geology still stands up very well compared to modern work.
    It was just stupidity and professional jealousy that blocked his path.

    In terms of “On Duties”, aside from the value of the book itself, your translation has shown me that any bilingual or multilingual person can potentially be a translator by putting in a lot of hard work and love of the subject matter. And there’s nothing the academic hacks can do to stop you!


    • Great points, PC, and I agree with all you say. I’m wondering if I should try to check out Hoover’s book now…
      And yes, there are a lot of examples of “amateurs” devoting more time, energy, and passion to these kinds of project than the so-called professionals. Few weeks back did an article on John Harrison, an amateur clockmaker who solved the longitude problem. The establishment fought him for years, maligned him, and denigrated him, but his clocks were incomparable:
      Hope we all incorporate this “can-do” spirits in our own lives.


  3. Hoover and his wife spoke to each other in Chinese when they wanted privacy in public. If you read the chapter on the great contraction in the Monetary History of the United States by Friedman you realize that no political response to the crash of ’29 was going to be adequate, short of either preemptive open market committee activity which no one at that time was schooled in or doing nothing and shutting down the fed entirely so as to keep such large bubbles from becoming systemic in future. Hoover’s brilliance was not up to the task because he had not the tools. Neither did FDR.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hoover knew Chinese? I did not know that. And yes, I agree. He was a brilliant guy but the problems he was facing were just too deeply-rooted to be solved by one guy. He also got blamed unfairly for much that was not his fault.


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