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Gene Smith

Gene Smith was a notable popular historian and long-time contributor to American Heritage who passed away in 2012 at the age of 83. Smith wrote many biographies of American political and military leaders, including the 1964 New York Times bestseller When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson.

Of Mr. Smith’s 19 books, perhaps the next best-known is The Shattered Dream: Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression (1970). He portrayed Hoover as an honest, caring president trapped by circumstances beyond his powers, and also by his own reserve and cautiousness.

“President Hoover could not bear to see the bread lines or the thin children so remindful of Europe in the war,” Mr. Smith wrote. “He never went to the relief stations, never turned his head in the car to look at the men selling apples on the street corners.”

At the same time, Hoover “took no precipitate steps,” Mr. Smith wrote, “saying that the most dangerous thing in the world was a man with emotion but no ideas.”

Among Mr. Smith’s other books are High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson, Lee and Grant: A Dual Biography, and Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: The Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing (1998), a study of the commander of the American Expeditionary Force of World War I. His last book, Mounted Warriors: From Alexander the Great and Cromwell to Stuart, Sheridan and Custer (2009), is a history of the cavalry.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in history, Smith briefly attended law school. He was drafted into the Army and served in Germany in the early 1950s. After returning to New York, Smith worked at Newsweek, The Newark Star-Ledger, and The New York Post.

Recently, Mr. Smith wrote a brief obituary of himself, in third-person singular. It says, “He used to muse that if there was an afterlife — granted a long shot, he said — he’d love it for the opportunities offered to interview people he studied in life.”

Articles by this Author

A noted historian recalls how he came to learn about the five-star general who led American forces to victory in World War I, and the sacrifices made by his family.
The book that taught GI’s how to behave in England
A young GI making the journey from war to peace, and from enmity to friendship, finds amid the most tremendous change smoldering embers of an old tyranny
The town that has seen it all
The Corps, October 2002 | Vol. 53, No. 5
The United States Military Academy turns 200 this year. West Point has grown with the nation—and, more than once, saved it.
From Richmond to Appomattox Court House, roads unchanged for 140 years tell the story of the final days, the final hours of the Confederacy
The Count, November 1998 | Vol. 49, No. 7
Bela Lugosi began by playing Laertes and Romeo, only to become forever trapped in very different roles
Sports Moment, May/June 1998 | Vol. 49, No. 3
His grandmother wanted him to be crowned emperor in Paris; he didn’t want anything to do with his royal background
It took a long time for the truth about Nazi Germany to sink in. And when it did, she learned the wrong lesson.
The Handy Man, September 1996 | Vol. 47, No. 5
Earl Sande was better at what he did than anybody else in his era. Then he threw it all away.
He was forever asking friends to find a spouse for his youngest boy. It was a different story with his girls.
Lost Bird, April 1996 | Vol. 47, No. 2
The infant survivor of Wounded Knee spent her life in desperate pursuit of a heritage that always eluded her
The It Girl, July/August 1995 | Vol. 46, No. 4
For a moment between the terrors of her childhood and the terrors of the talkies, she was America’s most successful movie actress
He was to turn a segregated little army within an army into the world’s first black pursuit squadron
The Lonigan Curse, April 1995 | Vol. 46, No. 2
James T. Farrell’s greatest creation died young and took his creator’s career to the grave with him
Going Back, December 1994 | Vol. 45, No. 8
Forty years changed almost everything—but not the author’s gleaming, troubling memories of Miss Clark. So he went looking for her.
There was no evidence that Captain Rosenbluth was a murderer—but Henry Ford set out to prove him one
Queen Marie, October 1994 | Vol. 45, No. 6
In the delirium of the 1920s, she became, for a little while, the most popular woman in the country
“The public, so far as it knew of our playing, was shocked”
“Tilden or blood,” cried the newspapers, but the man himself wouldn’t lift a hand for the Presidency
The Only Contender, April 1994 | Vol. 45, No. 2
Harry Wills might have been heavyweight champion of the world. But the world wouldn’t let him.
Henry Rathbone shared Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre; it destroyed his life as surely as it had the President’s
Libbie Custer, December 1993 | Vol. 44, No. 8
She spent almost sixty years commemorating her marriage—and her memories of it quite literally kept her alive
He told Lincoln he was better than any other officer on the field at Bull Run and got the Army’s top job. He built a beaten force into a proud one and stole a march on Robert E. Lee with it. He was twenty-four hours away from winning the Civil War. Then he fell apart.
Ruffian, September 1993 | Vol. 44, No. 5
The old Regular Army, part fairy tale and part dirty joke, was generally either ignored or disdained. But its people went about their work with a dogged humdrum gallantry—and when the storm broke, they helped save the world.
The author joins the thousands who feel compelled to trace the flight of Lincoln’s assassin
A reporter’s encounter with Harry Truman
A Little Visit to the Lower Depths via