Gene Smith

Gene Smith's picture

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 Contributor

October 1965

Half a century ago the glitter of the prewar world was extinguished forever in a 400-mile-long quagmire of barbed wire and mud, dead men and dying hopes. Recently AMERICAN HERITAGE sent a perceptive journalist-historian to revisit the scenes of that longest of all battles. Here is the peaceful present at such places as Verdun and Belleau Wood: the lawns are neat and green, but scaring memories remain.

October 1972

A Little Visit to the Lower Depths via

July/August 1992

A reporter’s encounter with Harry Truman

September 1992

The author joins the thousands who feel compelled to trace the flight of Lincoln’s assassin

December 1992

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.

September 1993

October 1993

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.

December 1993

She spent almost sixty years commemorating her marriage—and her memories of it quite literally kept her alive

February/March 1994

Henry Rathbone shared Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre; it destroyed his life as surely as it had the President’s

April 1994

Harry Wills might have been heavyweight champion of the world. But the world wouldn’t let him.