Scope and Content Note
Title: Eric Hoffer papers
Date (inclusive): 1934-1985
Collection Number: 94057
Hoover Institution Archives
Language of Material:
142 manuscript boxes, 3 cubic foot boxes, 10 oversize boxes, 7 card file boxes, 1 painting
(73 linear feet)
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.
Box 142 closed until 2020 October 1. The remainder of the collection is open for research. The Hoover Institution Archives
only allows access to
copies of audiovisual items. To listen to sound recordings or to view videos or films during your visit, please contact the Archives
at least two working days before your arrival. We will then advise you of the accessibility of the material you wish to see
or hear. Please note that not all audiovisual material is immediately accessible.
For copyright status, please contact the Hoover Institution Archives. Video tapes (Boxes 144-146) may not be reproduced.
[Identification of item], Eric Hoffer papers, [Box number], Hoover Institution Archives.
Increments may have been received since this finding aid was prepared. Please check Stanford University's online catalog Socrates
to find the full extent of the collection.
||Born, New York (?)
||Works as migrant farm laborer and gold miner in California, Oregon, and Washington
||Begins work as a longshoreman in San Francisco, California
The True Believer
The Passionate State of Mind
The Ordeal of Change
The Temper of Our Time
Invited to the White House by President Lyndon B. Johnson
||Writes nationally syndicated newspaper column, ?Reflections?
||Member, National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence
Working and Thinking on the Waterfront
Reflections on the Human Condition, 1973
Before the Sabbath
||Awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom by Ronald Reagan
Died, San Francisco, California
Truth Imagined, published posthumously
Scope and Content Note
Acquired in 1994, the Eric Hoffer papers in the Hoover Institution Archives 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 indeed 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
Eric Hoffer Archive, San Francisco Public Library
Subjects and Indexing Terms
United States--Social conditions--1945-