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The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 7, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307962954
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307962959
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (259 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #163,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1971, somebody burgled an FBI office in Pennsylvania, stole secret files, and sent them to journalists. One of the recipients, Medsger revisits the story because she has discovered who the burglars were (the FBI never identified them). Organized by a college teacher, they were a small group of academics and students whose act Medsger recounts with sympathy for their audacity and antiwar motivations. In discursive detail, Medsger recounts the protester-burglars’ movements, from casing the building to publicizing the purloined documents (with interludes of their worries about their fates if caught), and follows the course of the futile FBI investigation into the caper. Besides dramatizating the incident, Medsger pursues its historical significance—the documents’ revelation of extensive domestic surveillance by the FBI—into the congressional investigations of the 1970s. Medsger also discusses J. Edgar Hoover’s appointment in 1924 and NSA activities in the present. Though it could have been more tightly organized, this work encapsulates an important event of interest to readers of the history of the antiwar movement. --Gilbert Taylor

Review

“Rich and valuable.”
-David J. Garrow, The Washington Post
 
“Impeccably researched, elegantly presented, engaging…For those seeking a particularly egregious example of what can happen when secrecy gets out of hand, The Burglary is a natural place to begin.”
-David Oshinsky, New York Times Book Review

“A cinematic account . . . By turns narrative and expository, The Burglary provides ample historical context, makes telling connections and brings out surprising coincidences . . . makes a powerful argument for moral acts of whistle-blowing in the absence of government action.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“An important work, the definitive treatment of an unprecedented and largely forgotten ‘act of resistance’ that revealed shocking official criminality in postwar America. One need not endorse break-ins as a form of protest to welcome this deeply researched account of the burglary at Media. Ms. Medsger’s reporting skill and lifelong determination enabled her to do what Hoover’s FBI could not: solve the crime and answer to history.”
The Wall Street Journal
 
“Riveting and extremely readable. Not just an in-depth look at a moment in history, The Burglary is also extremely relevant to today's debates over national security, privacy, and the leaking of government secrets to journalists.”
The Huffington Post


“Astonishingly good, marvelously written…the best book I've read about either the antiwar movement or Hoover's FBI; a masterpiece.”
-Daniel Ellsberg
 
“The break-in at the FBI offices in Media, Pennsylvania changed history.  It began to undermine J. Edgar Hoover’s invulnerability. Betty Medsger writes a gripping story about the burglary, the burglars, and the FBI’s fervid but fruitless efforts to catch them.  Her story of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI (and today’s NSA) teaches the dangers of secret power.”
-Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr., former Chief Counsel to the U.S. Senate’s Church Committee investigating America’s intelligence agencies and author of the forthcoming Unchecked and Unbalanced
 
"I stayed up until 3 a.m. today. Now it's nearly 6 p.m. I have not done laundry, paid my bills or washed the dishes. I can't put the damn book down. What a triumphant piece of work!"
-Rita Henley Jensen, founder and editor-in-chief, Women's eNews
 
“A riveting account of a little-known burglary that transformed American politics. Medsger's carefully documented findings underscore how secrecy enabled FBI officials to undermine a political system based on the rule of law and accountability. This is a masterful book, a thriller.”
-Athan Theoharis, author of Abuse of Power: How Cold War Surveillance and Secrecy Policy Shaped the Response to 9/11
 
"Ordinary people have the courage and community to defeat the most powerful and punitive of institutions -- including the FBI. That's the unbelievable-but-true story told by Better Medsger, the only writer these long term and brave co-conspirators trusted to tell it. The Burglary will keep you on the edge of your seat -- right up until you stand up and cheer!" 
-Gloria Steinem
 
“In The Burglary, Betty Medsger solves the decades-long mystery the FBI never could: who broke into an FBI office in 1971 and exposed the Bureau’s secret program to stifle dissent? An astonishing and improbable tale of anonymous American heroes who risked their own freedom to secure ours, triggering the first attempt to subject our intelligence agencies to democratic controls. The book couldn’t be more timely given the current furor over a new generation of domestic spying.”
 -Michael German, former covert counterterrorism FBI agent
 
 “A masterpiece of investigative reporting. As a writer, I admire the way Betty Medgser has explored every angle of this truly extraordinary piece of history and told it with the compelling tension of a detective story. As an American, I’m grateful to know at last the identities of this improbable crew of brilliant whistle-blowers who are true national heroes. As someone appalled by recent revelations of out-of-control NSA spying, I’m reminded that it has all happened before, and that then, as now, it took rare courage to expose it. This brave group of friends were the Edward Snowdens of their time.” 
-Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost

“Extraordinary . . . It is impossible to read Betty Medsger’s book without drifting into comparisons between then—when J. Edgar Hoover was the director of the FBI—and now—when Gen. Keith Alexander was the director of the NSA.”
—Firedoglake Book Salon

“Reading [The Burglary] might make you feel . . . like taking a crowbar to the offices of the NSA . . . Gripping . . . [The] timing couldn’t be better.”
—Biographile

“There is joy and fun—and lots of law breaking—in Betty Medsger's book. The Burglary answers the question long asked and speculated about within Catholic Left, as well as law and order, circles: Who did the 1971 Media, Pa., FBI break-in . . . Fast paced, fascinating . . . studded with timely insights for today's WikiLeaks, intelligence breaches and NSA scandals.”
—Frida Berrigan, Waging Nonviolence

Customer Reviews

This was a well written and researched book.
Tom
I'm looking forward to the "1971" movie that will tell the tale to those who cannot find the time to read an interesting book.
Evan C. Brown
The important story about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and a burglary in the 1970s is well researched and well told.
Frederick Hecht

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

75 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Evelyn Uyemura VINE VOICE on January 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found this book absolutely absorbing. Both the skill with which it is written and the story that it tells are astounding. The story centers around the decision in 1971 by 8 respectable and responsible people, including a young married couple with 3 children, to break in to a small local FBI office to attempt to get proof that the FBI was spying on and attempting to suppress dissent by those who opposed the Vietnam War. This act of civil disobedience was much different than what Civil Rights protestors had engaged in--if caught, these people would face not just a few days or weeks in a local jail, like Martin Luther King in Birmingham, but instead as much as 30 years in a federal penitentiary.

The author writes movingly and in great detail about what would lead people to make such a bold decision, their backgrounds, how they prepared themselves, the precautions they took to keep their act secret (again, unlike many other acts of Civil Disobedience), the stress and fear they felt, and at the end, how they now feel looking back on their younger selves. I was so moved by the story of the Robins family and their deep love for each other and for their young children, and yet their belief that a moral life may require putting all that at risk for a higher good. Though it might seem irresponsible, it is routinely expected that a married soldier of either sex will be willing to risk death or disability even though they have a family, so their conviction makes sense, and yet, it was so painful and hard won.
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69 of 76 people found the following review helpful By G. Schneider VINE VOICE on December 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My first thought on having completed this massive tome is that it's misnamed. Yes, the break-in and the removal of secret files from the Media, PA, FBI office is discussed at length (one could say "at long length"), but that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Most of the book deals with the history and development of the FBI, before, during and after that break-in. Calling this book The Burglary is tantamount to calling Around the World in 80 Days something like My Trip to Paris.

Considering that Ms. Metzger was one of the original recipients of the Xeroxed copies of the pilfered files, she's certainly been involved in the story for a long time. That break-in occurred in 1971. After all this time, though, seven of the eight burglars have decided it's safe to come out of the closet. (The one hold-out, whoever he/she is, is probably either paranoid or dead...or both.)

To be sure, this is a fascinating book, even if it does stray. There are many insights into the workings of the FBI under Hoover. If you go by the book's subtitle, "The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI," rather than the actual title, which is limiting, you have a fascinating history of the bureau. But just when Ms. Metzger has wandered afield of the Media burglary, she'll toss in a line or two bringing it back into focus, such as: "The [Media] break-in may have been necessary in order for the truth about FBI operations to emerge."

So despite the length of this book (which I still feel is excessive), the information contained in Ms. Metzger's volume is fascinating and eye-opening. The burglars were looking primarily for corroboration that the FBI was stepping on Americans' right to dissent (in particular against our presence in Vietnam).
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In our age of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden's release of CIA documents, and endless debate over how much we shall allow governments to operate in how much secrecy, histories like this one need telling. On March 8, 1972, the Citizens Commission to Investigate the FBI - really, a small group of concerned anti-war protesters - burgled the FBI building in Media, PA, taking every document they could find in the building. This amateur group of burglars' intent was to validate to themselves and others their (and others') suspicion that the FBI was using its accountability-immune power to create a sense of terror amongst the American people and spy on people who posed no ostensible threat to national security (anti-war protesters, social activists, etc). Once the documents were gotten, the Commission set out to gradually release documents to media sources so that Americans could glimpse what sorts of things the FBI was doing.

As the book states, not only were the Commission's concerns completely validated, but their "results" kicked off a huge firestorm of controversy over the (until then) quite autonomous FBI.

This is a wide-ranging book, profiling the planning of the burglary, the media's reaction to the leaked documents, the FBI's attempts to contain the PR damage as well as their unsuccessful attempts to find the burglars (who were never caught), and the nation's attempts to grapple with how to reform an agency that might need some secrecy in order to protect the country, but also clearly needed to be accountable to the nation.
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