on 24 October 2008
This book is an excellent account of the life and times of J Edgar Hoover. It reveals that a man who is still considered to be one of the finest lawmen in the 20th century was, in fact, a morally corrupt individual who would use any dirty trick to get his own way.
The book starts with Hoover's early life, and takes the reader through his schooling and his first jobs with the Justice Department. It also shows that with the connections he made and the decisions of his bosses at the time, he was able to secure himself the job as Director of the Bureau of Investigation, later to be the FBI.
This book is completely engrossing and apart from the fact the author engages his readers through intelligent and fluid narration, the one thing that keeps you reading is the disbelief that a man in his position could have stooped so low to get what he wanted.
His predilection for blackmail was obvious from early on in his career. He was an intelligent individual who realised early on that he could manipulate the most powerful men in the country, through the fear that he had something on them, so believable was the concept that he wiretapped them. His ability to ride roughshod over the civil liberties of his fellow countrymen was absolutely breathtaking. It was not just the fact that he listened to salacious pieces of gossip and sexual tittle-tattle, but the fact that every whisper, suspicion or just malicious rumour was noted and filed for use later on.
His unwillingness to pursue the Mafia, his treatment of fellow homosexuals, his blackmailing of Presidents and politicians, his inability to cooperate with other federal authorities, his attitude to civil liberties, African Americans and any one he considered lesser to himself is astounding. It is shocking that a man with such a narrow-mind and appetite for power could run such a powerful agency for all that time, abusing the rights of others with mindless abandon, even his friends, like the Agent Melvin Purvis, were not exempt from his petty tantrums.
I would heartily recommend this book, it will leave you feeling amazed and shocked but so engrossing is the narrative that you will not be able to put it down. This book is worth every penny, one of my favourite books this year. Anthony Summers has done a fantastic job and I look forward to reading his other works.
Official and Confidential is another addition to Anthony Summers' superb books about the seamy underbelly of United States twentieth century politics. Whereas this Oxford-educated historian's other books have looked in great detail at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the life of President Richard M. Nixon, Official and Confidential exposes the murky life and times of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief J. Edgar Hoover.
What Summers' finds is truly incredible - a racist with possibly black ancestry, a homophobe who was a transvestite homosexual, a man who held the highest judicial office in the land but had a strong relationship with the Mafia, a life of deception and bullying, the ultimate behind-the-scenes King-maker, who used the FBI to build up numerous blackmail files on politicians, especially prospective presidential candidates; further to this, Hoover quite probably played a key role in the murder of Jack Kennedy (or at the very least, turned a blind eye to the events).
Summers' writing, as with all of his books, is clear and illuminating. He depicts a full life and decades of intricate politicking and blackmail, without ever losing the reader in a morass of names and dates. His arguments for Hoover's deep corruption are convincing and his sources are clear. Similar to his biography of Nixon, when reading Official and Confidential, there is a sense of, "He surely can't have been this bad and gotten away with it?" but Summers' makes his case simply by spelling out the unpleasant facts.
For those who enjoy an eye-opening biography, this book is a great read; characters such as Dwight Eisenhower and Bobby Kennedy enter the story, events such as the deaths of John Dillinger and Marilyn Monroe feature and the Mafia, of course, feature significantly. The book also works because of Summers' eye for the little details, such as the FBI agents nervously waiting outside Hoover's office, frantically wiping the sweat from their palms, as Hoover has a loathing of it and such an occurrence could jeopardise an agent's career.
This is another great book from Anthony Summers; once again he has really done his homework better than most. This book reveals a character who had tremendous influence over twentieth century U.S. politics and as such, this book sheds a revealing light on the deep political structure of the U.S. establishment. That the FBI's head office is still named after Hoover must be something of a perverse joke...
on 5 January 2010
This was a great read until almost the final page. The author takes the reader back through the life of this American icon and collates facts which, until recently, were either unknown or simply gossipped about in the odd documentary or article: Hoover as, almost certainly, a transvestite gay, who lived with a long term companion (officially an FBI officer on the payroll) and as a chief of secret police (by any other name) whose main stock in trade was collecting the dirt on possible threats to his position. This latter is certainly a trait of all top secret police people (examples might include Beria, Himmler and Bormann, the last not exactly a secret policeman but a hybrid).
The book goes through Hoover's career and makes the point that he did not, contrary to popular belief, found the F.B.I. at all, that he investigated those whose arrest would make good publicity, that he neglected to chase those criminals who were in the background, like the Mafia (whose chiefs had plenty of information about Hoover's own peccadilloes) etc. There are also interesting bits about the Kennedy assassination and about the WW2 spy Popov (see his own book Spy Counter Spy).
I thought the book very good indeed, weakened really only by the very end, where an attempt is made to diagnose Hoover retrospectively via various experts in psychiatric disorders. That weakened the book, not least because the conclusion, typical of psychiatry (?) is that Hoover was a paranoiac, also a sociopath, also a sexual deviant, etc...no real conclusion.
Well worth reading and a salutary lesson in the old tale of how power corrupts, though the author does make the point (not very strongly, though) that the organization Hoover created did and does have strong suits, particularly in the technical aspects of its work. The F.B.I. has had many many successes to place against its failures.
on 18 July 2007
When this book came out, a lot was made of the sexual side of this man, that Anthony Summers found out Hoover was a cross dresser, a homosexual. Yet the critics missed the main point of the book which is to show just how corrupt this man was, how he thought he was untouchable, his Mafia links, how he held the files on every American who mattered. This guy could crush a public figure with a blink of an eye.
To many Hoover was a public figure to be held in high regard, a true American. Yet we find out he was a racist who spent his life tormented by the thought that he himself came from black blood.
What scared me more than anything about this expose was the fact that this man was allowed free reign to do whatever he pleased under the guise of bieng the head of the FBI. His involvement and the coverage in the book on the deaths of John Dillinger and Marilyn Monroe as well as the death of JFK shocked me.
To anyone interested in recent American history, please read this. It will cast a new light on the macinations of the FBI under this man, it will show just how corrupt the American system can be when in the wrong hands.
The fact he was a cross dressing homosexual was bad enough (although the vision of him in a dress and high heels is a great source of entertainment) but this book goes far deeper.
I never liked Hoover, always thought he looked shifty, this books shows just how shifty he was.
Again Anthony Summers has written a concise thorough investigation into the mind and life of another American public figure of the "do as I say and not as I do" brigade.
A brilliant book which never loses pace in it's writing
on 26 November 2015
There's a long and inglorious history of strange men becoming very powerful indeed in the world of law enforcement and politics. Maybe it's that weird strangeness that drives them to success, or maybe it's the success that drives the behaviour. In Britain, you can almost set your calendar to throw up a weirdo or two, every few years - some judge or MP or Lord - revealed to enjoy the company of young boys, harsh leather clad mistresses or a strategically placed satsuma.
J Edgar Hoover wasn't British weird: but paranoid American weird. His apparent love of cross dressing is mild, a mere sideshow, compared to his insatiable appetite for control and prurient need for deeply personal information.
That his homosexuality had to be kept secret is a sad indictment of the times he lived in. One working theory in the book is that he was blackmailed by the Mafia about this, and consequently arranged that the FBI left them alone.
Hoover got some lucky breaks (for him) from history to further his control; wiretapping authorised by Roosevelt at the beginning of WW2, the Cold War fetid paranoia allowed him almost unchecked power. The FBI files facilitated the HUAC assault on Hollywood, that most un-American of pursuits. Reagan was an early informer, dropping a dime to federal agents deep in the California night. Writers, artists, Senators, Dr King, future Presidents, were all targets.
And, of course, The Kennedys. Especially JFK. With his not so secret extra curricular activity he was a gift to Hoover. There followed a long, hateful chess game; a war of attrition, with Kennedy looking for every opportunity to exorcise this most persistent of thorns.
The FBI both suited and confounded Nixon, and would ultimately contribute to his downfall. Nixon had once tried to join the Bureau but had been turned down for "lacking in aggressiveness".
This book is not just a biography, but a chronicle of strange days indeed, with a most peculiar cast. If Hollywood had dreamed this up it would probably be seen as too fantastic. Scary that it's true.
on 26 February 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed 'J Edgar Hoover'. I have seen the FBI headquaters building in Washington named after him, and it's amazing to think how someone with his devious record could have reached such dizzy heights in American history. If, like me, you are interested in things American, you will like this.
on 2 June 2000
Anthony Summers is a superb author and this book on J Edgar Hoover shows us how corrupt people were in successive US governments, the CIA and FBI. This man was a pervert and a cross dresser, which was his own business, but he had the audacity to hound people better than him, whom he felt didn't live up to his warped view of the world, including Martin Luther King. He had so much dirt on everyone he felt he was safe.. and he was to a point.. as the Mafia had 'fixed' him.. I couldn't put it down.. as with all Anthony Summer's books.. I theorise Nixon had him finished him off.
on 22 November 2015
Great read. Even if only half of it is true (theres plenty of people who have defended the 'great man'). Its a real eye-opener regarding the behind the scenes machinations of scoundrels and villains, politicians and secret government agencies, while the average honest person goes about his life, believing what he reads in the 'sponsored' press and accepting as true what high office tells him, nothing is as it appears. Unbelievable Hypocrisy, lies and deceit, intrigue and 5 decades of American history littered with so many famous names. 500 plus pages, is for once, is not too many.
on 19 March 2014
For anyone with an interest in American recent history, this is an excellent and shocking read. I would recommend it as a background to other literature of the time as it adds a touch of reality to the political events of the era. Although Edgar died before Watergate, in my mind, it was his actions over the years which equipped the administration with the mind set to undertake their actions which brought down the President. A very good read.
on 28 March 2014
Well, what an eye opener this proved to be ! I will not spoil it for others but suffice to say without Hoover a lot of things would have been very different, I will leave to you as the reader to determine whether this would be for the better or worse. Enjoyed reading this book Anthony Summers is a thorough researcher and his other biographies as this, have been well written and easy to read.