Friday, October 27, 2023

7 Questions with Scott Martelle, Author of 1932: FDR, Hoover, and the Dawn of a New America


Scott Martelle, a veteran journalist and former member of the Los Angeles Times editorial
board, is the author most recently of 1932: FDR, Hoover, and the Dawn of a New America,
which received a starred review in Kirkus Reviews. It is his seventh book of nonfiction. Born in
Scarborough, Maine, he grew up in Wellsville, New York, and wound up in Southern California
after working on newspapers in Jamestown and Rochester, New York, and Detroit, where he
participated in the 1995 newspaper strike. He currently lives in Rochester, N.Y., and can be
contacted through his website, .   1932 will be published  November 28, 2023.

1. How and when did you get hooked on history?

I’m not hooked on history so much as I’m hooked on stories, which, of course, is how we
relate history. Also, as a journalist, understanding the past is crucial to understanding
the present, so there was an occupational draw, as well.

2. What role does history play or has it played in your personal life?

It’s given me a window for understanding how the world works, and how societies have
evolved. On a more personal level, I enjoy dipping my toes into genealogy and seeing
how the history of my family fits in with the history of the nation. Two, actually: A lot of
my European ancestors moved to Canada before spreading out to New England (I was
born in Maine). And it occasionally has given me the chance to prove or debunk some
family legends, which is fun fodder for family gatherings.

3. How does history play a part of your professional life/career?

As a career journalist, it was ever present in the work, especially covering
presidential campaigns. But it also gave me subjects to explore in books, which I’ve
found to be immensely satisfying.

4. Why is studying/knowing history important?

The usual response here would be to cite the old line about not knowing history
condemns people to repeat it. But even when we understand it, we still seem to repeat
it, so knowing history helps us understand how modern developments came to be. Such
as why some global clashes are so persistent and difficult to resolve without resorting to
war. Or why certain cities flourished while others did not. For example, understanding
the economic impact of the opening of the Erie Canal helps frame how the upper
Midwest developed as it did.

5. What is your favorite period or aspect of history to learn about and why?

Probably early 20th century, from the aftermath of the Spanish-American War through
the rise of radicalism as a counter to the robber barons, into the Great Depression.
There was a lot of great drama then, and a searching around for better ways of doing
things as technological advances changed the world.

6. What drew you to 1932 and Hoover vs FDR?

I was looking around for a different way of diving into that era, and with my interest in
presidential political campaigns, the 1932 one seemed particularly intriguing, But I
didn’t want to just write about the campaign, which has been done so many times.
Rather, I wanted to explore what was happening in the country at the tine – the context
for that critical election and why Americans were so ready to opt for a radical change in
the federal government.

7. Are there lessons or warnings from 1932 that politicians and citizens should heed nearly a
century later?

Maybe the perils of electing a president ill-equipped for the job – Hoover never did get
the politics right. He also didn’t have the ability to handle the economic crisis that befell him,
much as Donald Trump was ill-equipped to handle a crisis like the Covid pandemic. There is also
a lesson on the perils of strict adherence to political and economic ideology. As we’ve seen
many times before and since, when people feel as though the political system is ignoring them
and their needs, they take to the streets. And elected leaders can quickly fund the political
terrain disintegrating beneath them.

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