From Publishers Weekly
Ackerman, a Washington lawyer (Boss Tweed), examines the "red scare" hysteria that swept the country in 1919. The linchpin in the government's actions was the notorious Palmer Raids, a series of raids and arrests ostensibly designed to rid the country of anarchists and Communists. Though many at the time believed J. Edgar Hoover played only a small role in the raids, in fact they were organized by Hoover, then only a 24-year-old Department of Justice agent who Ackerman describes as possessing an uncanny ability to please his superiors, a preternatural ability to attend to detail and a dangerously distorted moral compass. The mixture of Hoover and the other personalities prominent in the story—Clarence Darrow, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs and Felix Frankfurter, to name a few—makes for a compelling story that features demagogues; terrorists; a gullible, xenophobic public; rogue law enforcement officials; and good guys, both in and out of government, who discredit the raids. Ackerman captures well the pathological character of the young Hoover and argues effectively that there is a cautionary tale in the corrosive effect of the denial of civil liberties and extralegal measures employed in the red scare raids. Illus. (June)
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The eager beaver who organized the so-called Palmer Raids of 191920 is the main actor in Ackerman's crowded cast. John Edgar Hoover, ex-librarian, applied cataloging skills to his assignment from Attorney General Mitchell Palmer: open files on radicals, and jail and deport them. Backward to no civil libertarian in condemning the raids, in which several thousand suspects were collared and famous anarchist Emma Goldman was expelled, Ackerman concedes that Palmer was not reacting to nothing, describing the wave of bombings, race riots, and strikesin the wake of war and pandemicthat made 1919 a febrile year. Within its permissive political environment, Ackerman narrates the crackdown of the presidency-seeking Palmer in terms of the bureaucratic battles in which it played out. The youthful J. Edgar's antagonist turned out to be one Louis Post, a Department of Labor official who had to sign off on the dragnet. Post's resistance put Palmer's point man on defense, and Hoover saved his own career by avoiding responsibility. This should engage veterans of full-life biographies, such as Curt Gentry's J. Edgar Hoover (1991). Taylor, Gilbert
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