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Eric Hoffer
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Philosopher
    (July 25, 1898-May 21, 1983)
    Moral and social philosopher
    Wrote ‘The True Believer’ (1951), ‘The Passionate State of Mind’ (1955), ‘The Ordeal of Change’ (1963), and ‘Reflections on the Human Condition’ (1972)
    Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1982)
    He is the only source for information about his life before his mid-30s, and his stories were often contradictory. (One friend said of Hoffer’s accounts of his early life, ‘I don’t believe a word of it.’)
    He claimed to have been born in the Bronx, but he may have actually been born in Germany, immigrated to the US illegally, and never became a citizen.
    He fathered a son out of wedlock with a married woman, Lili Osborne.
    He retired from teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, and writing a newspaper column, declaring, ‘I’m going to crawl back into my hole where I started.’ (1970)
    He was a lifelong smoker, which probably contributed to his emphysema.
    ’The True Believer’ was cited by Ted Kaczynski in the Unabomber manifesto.
    He continued working on the docks of San Francisco as a longshoreman until he reached the mandatory retirement age in 1967, well after his writing had made him famous.
    He somehow maintained a friendship with Lili’s husband, Selden Osborne, even after he and Lili moved in together.
    He endowed an essay prize at UC, Berkeley.
    He wrote, ‘There is not an idea that cannot be expressed in 200 words. But the writer must know precisely what he wants to say. If you have nothing to say and want badly to say it, then all the words in all the dictionaries will not suffice.’
    After 9/11, sociologists noted that ‘The True Believer,’ although written with fascism and communism in mind, applied equally well to Islamic fundamentalism.

Credit: C. Fishel


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