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Hoffer (Eric) papers
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Use
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biographical Note
  • Scope and Content Note
  • Related Collection(s)

  • Title: Eric Hoffer papers
    Date (inclusive): 1934-1996
    Collection Number: 94057
    Contributing Institution: Hoover Institution Library and Archives
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 146 manuscript boxes, 2 cubic foot boxes, 10 oversize boxes, 7 card file boxes, 1 painting (73.3 Linear Feet)
    Abstract: Speeches and writings, correspondence, reports, minutes, memoranda, printed matter, and audiovisual material relating to philosophy, social psychology, the nature of mass movements, social violence, the social role of intellectuals, and social conditions in the United States.
    Creator: Hoffer, Eric
    Physical Location: Hoover Institution Library & Archives


    The collection is open for research; materials must be requested in advance via our reservation system. If there are audiovisual or digital media material in the collection, they must be reformatted before providing access.


    For copyright status, please contact the Hoover Institution Library & Archives. Video tapes (Boxes 144-146) may not be reproduced.

    Acquisition Information

    Materials were acquired by the Hoover Institution Library & Archives in 1994.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Eric Hoffer papers, [Box no., Folder no. or title], Hoover Institution Library & Archives.

    Biographical Note

    1898 Born, New York (?)
    1920s-1930s Worked as migrant farm laborer and gold miner in California, Oregon, and Washington
    1942 Began work as a longshoreman in San Francisco, California
    1951 Author, The True Believer
    1955 Author, The Passionate State of Mind
    1963 Author, The Ordeal of Change
    1967 Invited to the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson
      Author, The Temper of Our Time
    1967-1969 Wrote nationally syndicated newspaper column, "Reflections"
    1968-1969 Member, National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence
    1969 Author, Working and Thinking on the Waterfront
    1973 Author, Reflections on the Human Condition
    1979 Author, Before the Sabbath
    1983 Autobiography, Truth Imagined, published posthumously
      Died, San Francisco, California
      Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan

    Scope and Content Note

    The Eric Hoffer papers represent the largest single fund of primary sources documenting the unusual life and influential writings of a celebrated and controversial individual who came to be known as America's "longshoreman philosopher." The collection contains nearly everything ever written by Hoffer, including copious notes made throughout his lifetime, as well as a large volume of correspondence from readers of his works. There are also newspaper columns and audiovisual materials which, taken together with his writings, reveal a fuller picture of Hoffer as not only the solitary thinker, but a public figure engaged with the world around him.
    The documents in the Hoffer collection concern all periods of his life, and they include early, unpublished stories based on his experiences as a migrant worker and sometime gold miner in California during the Depression. Although living at the very margins of society, Hoffer made great efforts to educate himself on a wide variety of subjects. The NOTEBOOKS series provides an annotated record of Hoffer's readings, along with his own observations on many topics. In these notebooks, the genesis of his personal philosophy can be traced, as can the polishing of the aphoristic style that characterized much of his published work. Hoffer continued his practice of keeping notebooks until late in his life, and these contain much unpublished material, a large portion of which was transcribed before his death and is part of the collection.
    Hoffer's first published work, The True Believer (1951), brought him enduring acclaim for its analysis of mass movements in history and Hoffer's emphasis on the part played by fanaticism in the trajectory of such movements. The term "true believer" entered the popular vocabulary as an archetype of the political or religious zealot, and Hoffer's book is still invoked in contemporary discussions of religious fundamentalism and political terrorism. The collection contains early drafts of this seminal work, as well as its final manuscript form.
    Hoffer, who worked for many years as a longshoreman on the San Francisco docks, went on to write other books ( The Ordeal of Change and The Temper of Our Time, among others) in which he set forth his ideas on history and social change, the relationship of humanity to nature, and what, in Hoffer's view, was the often suspect role played by intellectuals as exponents of absolutist doctrine and as seekers of power for themselves. Following several programs devoted to him on national television in the 1960s, Hoffer became a public personality, and through numerous speeches and a syndicated newspaper column, he participated vocally in the often strident debates over foreign and domestic policy in the United States during the Vietnam War era.
    The SPEECHES AND WRITINGS series of the Hoffer collection contains the manuscript drafts of most of his books, as well as copies of the numerous articles he wrote for various publications. Among the manuscripts, there are the original diaries used as the basis for Working and Thinking on the Waterfront, and some later diary entries. An unpublished work, "Quotations and Comments," which Hoffer was working on at the time of his death, can also be found in this series. Hoffer's notecards, where he compiled a vast number of citations from various authors and which formed the raw material for much of his writing, comprise the CARD FILE series of the collection.
    The collection contains the entire run of Hoffer's syndicated newspaper column, "Reflections," where for several years he wrote on many topical subjects, such as student protest and black militancy, in an often vigorously polemical style. There are also videotape recordings of television interviews made with Hoffer in the 1960s, as well as video and sound recordings of some his public appearances.
    The extensive CORRESPONDENCE series of the collection reflects the large audience for Hoffer's work, and also details his relationships with publishers and editors, including the early encouragement of his writing by Margaret Anderson and Elizabeth Lawrence. There is a separate series for the correspondence of Eric Hoffer's longtime companion, Lili Fabilli Osborne.
    There are also substantial materials concerning Hoffer's sometimes stormy tenure as a member of the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, as well as ones relating to his time on the San Francisco Art Commission. The collection also includes a significant amount of biographical and critical writings on Hoffer.
    Additional primary documents relating to Eric Hoffer can be found in the collections of the San Francisco Public Library and the Immigration History Research Center of the University of Minnesota (Margaret Anderson collection and the papers of the organization and publication with which Anderson was affiliated, the Common Council for American Unity and Common Ground).

    Related Collection(s)

    Eric Hoffer Archive, San Francisco Public Library

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Video tapes
    Political psychology
    Social psychology
    Intellectuals -- United States
    Violence -- United States
    United States -- Social conditions -- 1945-