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J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets Hardcover – September, 1991


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 846 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc; First Edition edition (September 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393024040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393024043
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,885 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a richly textured biography of the former FBI director who died in 1972, Gentry, coauthor of Helter Skelter , takes a decidedly unfriendly look at the man and his career, revealing how Hoover found his niche in life as a "hunter of men," served under 10 presidents over a period of five decades, creating what Eleanor Roosevelt characterized as an American Gestapo. We're shown Hoover scheming to help Thomas Dewey replace Harry Truman in the White House in return for a promise that he would be appointed attorney general; making use of secret information on Senator Joseph McCarthy while at the same time contributing significantly to "McCarthyism"; stalking John F. Kennedy even before he went into politics; covertly helping Richard Nixon become president, then virtually forcing the Nixon administration to embark on the road to Watergate. Hoover believed that America's morality was very much his business and, as Gentry demonstrates, the director equated morality with sexual abstinence. His horrified fascination with homosexuality (mixed with a strong streak of misogyny) are masterfully depicted here, as well as his virulent racism, disclosed in fresh material on Hoover's efforts to destroy Martin Luther King Jr. It is hard to imagine another portrait of Hoover that could surpass this one for detail, depth and sheer vitriol. Gentry makes clearer than previous biographers how J. Edgar Hoover became and, for the greater part of his tenure, remained the most powerful man in Washington. Photos. 75,000 first printing; $100,000 ad/promo; BOMC selection; author tour.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Since his death in 1972, there has been an increasing fascination with Hoover and the immense power he wielded as director of the FBI. Although there have been two recent major biographies--Athan G. Theoharis's The Boss ( LJ 6/1/88) and Richard G. Powers's Secrecy and Power ( LJ 2/1/87)--this massive new study promises to be the most extensive and controversial yet. Gentry, who coauthored Helter Skelter ( LJ 11/15/74), has based his account of Hoover on more than 300 interviews and on access to previously classified FBI documents. Beginning with a behind-the-scenes description of Hoover's death and the search for his "secret files" that is novelistic in technique, Gentry paints a portrait of Hoover as the "indispensable man," with many provocative revelations about his political dealings. This is a chilling look at the darker side of American politics, especially concerning Hoover's enemies list and his relentless investigation of Martin Luther King Jr.'s personal life. The book's lively readability is balanced by lengthy footnotes and by an extensive list of source notes and interviews, and it will be in demand in both academic and public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/91; see also From the Secret Files of J. Edgar Hoover , reviewed in this issue, p. 125.--Ed.
- Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, Pa.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Very fascinating reading.
James S. MacDuff
I read several other books while reading this one, but I enjoyed every page.
William E. Marshall
J. Edgar Hoover was more dictator than director.
Sylviastel

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Todd Adams on February 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
A fascinating and comprehensive look at a complex, powerful, and manipulative man. Gentry brings to life the power that Hoover held, power bestowed on him by virtue of the secrets he held in the massive volumes of FBI files he collected over his 48 year tenure.

Hoover's far reach and influence are stunning. Most people probably have a cursory idea of Hoover's god-like legacy, but Gentry brings out the jaw dropping, scandalous details in vivid candor. Hoover had leverage over his superiors - the president and the attorney general - as well as his subordinates, Congress, Hollywood, local police jurisdictions, and civil rights leaders. His sway only increased with every year his held his office.

Gentry's account is exhaustively researched and probably the most extensive and authoritative history of Hoover in existence. He delves into the paradox that Hoover was, a rigid, aggravating, unlikeable, and deeply vindictive man to many, yet to a few close associates, he was engaging and affable, if not warm, and to him they were 100% loyal.

Hoover was no doubt a product of his time. For the calculating personality he possessed, who could ask for better career advancement opportunities than to serve in a time of the depression, bootleggers, gansters, the mafia, the Communist red scare, and the Kennedy assasinations successively. All during Hoover's time at the FBI, there was a valid argument to be made that he was simply indispensible. The desire of many in government to end his tenure was thwarted time after time, almost to a comical degree. Hoover was saved by the skin of his teeth more than once by fortuitous turns of events.

Beyond just Hoover, this book explores the dark side of politics in general.
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful By David Robinson on March 12, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the context of recent concerns about spying on Americans by the Executive Branch of government, it is timely to re-read this classic biography. Gentry skips sensationalism and scandal, but his carefully detailed portrait shows a nasty, bigotted old man who happily chiselled his employer.

So how did Hoover remain in power for half a century? Simply put, he had a file on everyone. And he wasn't afraid of using his minions to imply the threat of blackmail.

There's little evidence of active homosexuality by Hoover, indeed labelling someone a "fag" seems to have been his biggest threat. However, here we have a many who lived with his mother until his mid-40's, whose "Associate Director" was his daily companion whose adult sexuality at best could be called retarded.

Gentry's indictment of Hoover does not avoid his few good qualities -- he was a hard worker and an efficient administrator. The notes and footnotes are extensive, but do not interfere with a page-turning narrative for those who want to go quickly. In sum, it amounts to a crashing indictment of a man whose name does not deserve to be on a government building.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By mike S on September 27, 2002
Format: Paperback
The book is very well researched and detailed. If you ever wanted the facts (I got the feeling all of them) it's here. It kept me interested for about 500 pages, but after a while, it just got a bit relentless.
Not to say the book is written poorly, but be ready for a heavy, fact filled, hugely referenced, textbook style read.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By William E. Marshall on December 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
I often turn to biographies of key historical figures for a history lesson. They add a human interest and focus that is often lacking in standard history books. Gentry's biography of Hoover served this purpose especially well as Hoover was so central to American politics and domestic policies during his 50 year tenure with the FBI. This book is densely packed with interesting details on everyone from JFK to G. Gordon Liddy. Several themes in American history can be traced in this book such as the rise of American personal civil liberties. When Hoover began his career, widespread spying on Americans simply wasn't practicable given that central information exchanges such as telephone networks did not yet exist. Yet, almost from the inception of such information exchanges, Hoover quietly and without notice, initiated large-scale phone tapping and letter opening programs in the U.S. Postal Service. The book traces the eventual curtailing of such activities in the wake of Watergate and the protections developed and refined by the Warren Court such as Miranda warnings and protections against illegal search and seizure.

Be aware that this is dense, fact-filled material albeit very readable. I read several other books while reading this one, but I enjoyed every page.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rolland W. Amos on January 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Curt Gentry's book is about J.Edgar Hoover(JEH), the most powerful, most durable U.S.bureaucrat ever and about the KGB-, Gestapo-like organization (the FBI) that he created. Since JEH held his position for 55 years - he served under 8 presidents and 16 attorneys general- the book offers a multitude of extremely interesting historical moments involving the interplay between JEH, the FBI, and elements and major personalities of our government and society. While Gentry never resolves the issue of JEH's sexual orientation, he does adequately document why JEH can rightfully be described as ambitious, puritanical, vain, loquacious, cold and unemotional, neat, organized and resourceful, articulate, devious and manipulative, prejudiced, effective, smart, vindictive, energetic, feared, and, on some rare occasions, humorous.
The FBI's methods and techniques -legal and illegal- by which the FBI acquired the information and the secrets that filled FBI file cabinets - the secrets that constituted JEH's real power- are fully described: telephone (wire) taps/recordings, 'bugs' (surreptitiously mounted miniature microphones in the homes, offices, vehicles, organizations, etc., of FBI targets), 'black bag jobs'(breaking and entering operations to collect info, membership and mailing lists, etc.
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