Eric Hoffer


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Eric Hoffer was an American social writer and philosopher. He produced ten books and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 1983 by President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. His first book, The True Believer, published in 1951, was widely recognized as a classic, receiving critical acclaim from both scholars and laymen, although Hoffer believed that his book The Ordeal of Change was his finest work. In 2001, the Eric Hoffer Award was established in his honor, with permission granted by the Eric Hoffer Estate in 2005. 

Hoffer was born in the Bronx, New York City, in 1902, the son of Knut and Elsa Hoffer, immigrants from Alsace. By the age of five, he could read in both German and English. When he was age five, his mother fell down a flight of stairs with Eric in her arms. Hoffer went blind for unknown medical reasons two years later, but later in life, he said he thought it might have been due to trauma. After his mother's death, he was raised by a live-in relative or servant, a German woman named Martha.

His eyesight inexplicably returned when he was 15. Fearing he would again go blind, he seized upon the opportunity to read as much as he could for as long as he could. His eyesight remained, and Hoffer never abandoned his habit of voracious reading. Hoffer was a young man when his father, a cabinetmaker, died. The cabinetmaker's union paid for the funeral and gave Hoffer a little over three hundred dollars. Sensing that warm Los Angeles was the best place for a poor man, Hoffer took a bus there in 1920. He spent the next 10 years on Los Angeles' skid row, reading, occasionally writing, and working odd jobs. 

On one such job, selling oranges door-to-door, he discovered he was a natural salesman and could easily make good money. Uncomfortable with this discovery, he quit after one day. In 1931, he attempted suicide by drinking a solution of oxalic acid, but the attempt failed as he could not bring himself to swallow the poison. The experience gave him a new determination to live adventurously. It was then he left skid row and became a migrant worker. Following the harvests along the length of California, he collected library cards for each town near the fields where he worked and, living by preference, "between the books and the brothels." A seminal event for Hoffer occurred in the mountains, where he had gone in search of gold. 

Snowed in for the winter, he read the Essays by Michel de Montaigne. Montaigne's book impressed Hoffer deeply, and he often made reference to its importance to him. He also developed a great respect for America's underclass, which, he declared, was "lumpy with talent."Longshoreman" Hoffer was in San Francisco by 1941. He attempted to enlist in the Armed forces there in 1942 but was rejected because of a hernia. Wanting to contribute to the war effort, he found ample opportunity as a longshoreman on the docks of The Embarcadero. 

It was there he felt at home and finally settled down. He continued reading voraciously and soon began to write while earning a living loading and unloading ships. He continued this work until he retired at age 65. Hoffer considered his best work to be The True Believer, a landmark explanation of fanaticism and mass movements. The Ordeal of Change is also a literary favorite. In 1970 he endowed the Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Laconic Essay Prize for students, faculty, and staff at the University of California, Berkeley. Hoffer was a charismatic individual and persuasive public speaker but said that he didn’t really care about people. Despite authoring 10 books and a newspaper column, in retirement, Hoffer continued his robust life of the mind, thinking and writing alone in an apartment.

Best author’s book


The True Believer