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

May/June 1994

“Tilden or blood,” cried the newspapers, but the man himself wouldn’t lift a hand for the Presidency

July/August 1994

“The public, so far as it knew of our playing, was shocked”

October 1994

In the delirium of the 1920s, she became, for a little while, the most popular woman in the country

November 1994

There was no evidence that Captain Rosenbluth was a murderer—but Henry Ford set out to prove him one

December 1994

Forty years changed almost everything—but not the author’s gleaming, troubling memories of Miss Clark. So he went looking for her.

April 1995

James T. Farrell’s greatest creation died young and took his creator’s career to the grave with him

May/June 1995

He was to turn a segregated little army within an army into the world’s first black pursuit squadron

July/August 1995

For a moment between the terrors of her childhood and the terrors of the talkies, she was America’s most successful movie actress

April 1996

The infant survivor of Wounded Knee spent her life in desperate pursuit of a heritage that always eluded her

July/august 1996

He was forever asking friends to find a spouse for his youngest boy. It was a different story with his girls.