53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2008
Anthony Summers presents J. Edgar Hoover as a man who insisted his agents lead a monastic life style while he enjoyed good whisky, gambling, and free vacations. He vilified homosexuals while himself involved with a male partner and he was capable of cross-dressing at private parties. He portrayed himself as the bulwark against crime yet coddled the Mafia and resisted any attempt at stopping their illegal activities. Ranted against communism but diverted resources to concentrate on building files on U.S. Congressmen and politicians without effectively stopping the Soviet intelligence attack throughout the cold war.
It is a frightening story of political maneuvering, blackmailing and excesses solely to maintain power. Summer's book includes extensive notes and bibliography. Written in 1993 it does not deal with the great failures that have been revealed in the past fifteen years such as the Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames cases. It does imply that Hoover's emphasis of show and power could have resulted in the FBI functioning to fit his image and maintain his power base at the expense of protecting American Security.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2007
A truly interesting book. I have to say that it changed my view on the legendary man, and opens my eyes to how power corrupts. It's a bit long, but I'd recommend this to anyone interested in American politics in the 20th century.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 1999
Once I had begun to read this book, it took everything I had to put it down in order to get some sleep and do my schoolwork. The power that Hoover possessed and how he fed on the fears of government officials who tried to kick him out, is absolutly fantastic to read about. To learn how corrupt the man who was considered by many to be an American hero was proved to be among the many elements of this book that keeps you wanting to read it. I had no idea that Hoover was a closet transvestite until I read this book, but now I enjoy reading this book, both for pleasure and research. I recommend it to anyone who wants to read some interesting stuff!
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 1999
"Official And Confidential" is a great work that serves as a document about the abuses of power due to one man's private perversions. Summers writes an incredibly powerful book that explores many, many subjects. Never did I think one man could have so much control, I was proven wrong by this great work. J.Edgar Hoover was a man with mental problems that were secret perversions, he used it to his use. This book is like watching a great movie. It has all the elements of a great dramatic thriller. We explore the shadowy truths behind the assassinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Even the death of John Dillinger is questioned here. "Official & Confidential" can also serve as a study of the perversions of power and government. The myth of the conservative 50s and 60s is shattered here. There was more going on behind the curtain of power than we knew. This is a masterpiece.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2013
A fascinating expose of Hoover's personal and professional life, with lots of tantalizing anecdotes like this one:
Billy Byars Sr., Humble Oil millionaire from Tyler, Texas, was very close to Hoover. Phone logs show that Hoover called only three people the afternoon President Kennedy was shot: Robert Kennedy, the head of the Secret Service, and Byars. Byars Sr., is dead. His son, Billy Jr., told Summers in 1988 how close his father was to Hoover. Hoover would talk constantly about his bad relations with the Kennedys. He says he once asked him about the assassination. "I asked him, 'Do you think Lee Harvey Oswald did it?' And he stopped and he looked at me for quite a long time. Then he said, 'If I told you what I really know, it would be very dangerous to this country. Our whole political system could be disrupted.' That's all he said, and I could see he wasn't about to say any more."
Being a supporter of gay rights, Hoover's personal life would normally be of no interest to me. But his public hypocrisy and persecution of anyone who didn't fit the Boy Scout ideal he had in his head (and his obvious inability to live up to that ideal) makes for a fascinating psycho-history, and helps us to understand many of his actions as FBI Director.
This book is also a warning to Americans to stop focusing so much time and energy on elected partisan officials, and to more closely examine the vast unelected government that continues no matter which party is in power.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2011
This book is must read for all those who are interested in the theory of a "shadow government" in America. It also ties in well with many of the books written about the JFK administration and political assassination. Nevertheless the book seems to be well researched with lots of notes in the back section. It is also a good companion book to another Anthony Summers book, "Not in Your Lifetime".
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2012
Mesmerizing. The bio sets out the life of the man - J Edgar Hoover - who ruled America under the auspices of the FBI from the 1930s until his death - in office - in the early 1970s, on the eve of Watergate. Hoover was the ultimate JR (Dallas) who through collecting dirt on White House incumbents was able to wield power way beyond that of the presidency of the day. Due to the Mafia having evidence of Hoover's sexual inclinations he had an "understanding" with them and allowed them to run their businesses with impunity. Throughout his decades of heading the FBI he was viewed as untouchable ... a state of affairs that seems almost surreal especially considering that his relationship with his assistant, Clyde Tolson, was obviously homosexual. The butchiest institution in the world was run by two queens - truly the weirdest Riley's Believe it or not ever !
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2014
Reading "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover" was an edifying, revelatory, and startling experience. I place special emphasis on "STARTLING", because though I had some prior knowledge of Hoover's abuses of power and misdeeds as FBI Director, it was not until reading this book that the full magnitude of them became all too clear.
Summers --- who carried out more than a decade of extensive and voluminous research on Hoover's life and career and conducted hundreds of interviews with people from various walks of life who knew Hoover personally, politicians and policymakers, former FBI agents, and retired high-level officials who served under Hoover at FBI Headquarters in Washington ---- has done a fantastic job of bringing to light a man, who, belying the public image he had carefully crafted of himself for close to 50 years as one of the nation's chief law enforcement officers non-pareil, was in truth a hateful, racist, and rigidly dogmatic man. Nor was he above resorting to blackmail to achieve his aims. Yet, Hoover's rise to power was not inevitable. But through his playing upon the sensitivities of Presidents and Members of Congress, he made himself the indispensable civil servant. For instance, it was Franklin Roosevelt, a former President I much admire for the good things he did for this country (and by extension, the world), who gave Hoover in the 1930s wide-ranging authority to wiretap anyone considered as a potential security risk. (Hoover knew of Roosevelt's love for political gossip/intelligence and eagerly shared with him transcripts his agents compiled from wiretaps.) This included politicians, intellectuals, and various social organizations. Indeed, "[t]he FBI's surveillance index, started in 1941, contains 13,500 entries. While the identities of the individuals tapped is withheld on privacy grounds, the index establishes that Edgar's FBI tapped or bugged thirteen labor unions, eighty-five radical political groups and twenty-two civil rights organizations." --- p. 133.
I'd like to cite from this book the following remarks, which, for me, sums up J. Edgar Hoover and his dark legacy:
"Hoover's whole life" (observed Dr. John Money, Professor of Medical Psychology at Johns Hopkins University) "was one of haunting and hounding people over their sexuality, brutalizing them one way or another because of it. He took on the role of being the paragon, keeping the country morally clean, yet hid his own sexual side [i.e. his homosexuality and travestism]. His terrible thing was that he needed constantly to destroy other people in order to maintain himself. Many people like that break down and end up needing medical help. Hoover managed to live with his conflict --- by making others pay the price."
This book should serve as a cautionary tale for concerned people who believe in democratic government and cherish it to be ever watchful of powerful authority figures (whether elected or appointed) who may be abusing their positions to the detriment of others.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2013
This book is a biography, but also proves the old axiom "power corrupts, total power totally corrupts". Hoover was the epitome of a hypocrite: condemning homosexuals when he was one, keeping secret files (mostly sexual exploits and deviations) on politicians and citizens to use against them or for his own blackmail purposes.
Hoover's FBI had many accomplishments with fingerprint files, discipline of agents, and central crime laboratory, but allowed the Mafia to expand exponentially, obsessed about finding communists long after they had any power (if they ever did have any), and refused to cooperate with CIA and Secret Service. The FBI also messed up with Pearl Harbor info and JFK assassination prevention (a couple of fairly major events). He kept complete power because of his secret files that Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon feared but would use for their own benefit.
I think that the book dealt with Hoover's sexual deviances and his obsession with other people's sexual deviances to an excessive amount, I would like to have had more info on the FBI, but the book is about Hoover and not the FBI. All in all, somewhat interesting and enlightening, but mostly disturbing.
53 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2000
This book reads like a tabloid, and it's hard to consider it could be more than just that.
Not only are sources not quoted in a scientific historical way, but the book also rests heavily on the use of unsubtle biased language against Hoover. I do not doubt that Hoover used illegal means for his person goals, but I would much rather have read a book that gives me the feeling I should take it seriously, because it shows on every page and footnote it takes itself and its investigation serious. This unbalanced account of his life has flipped over to one side, proclaiming Hoover the bad guy, without exploring even the possiblilty of a positive side of the man. It's as if the writer settles a scoure here. It left me with the uneasy feeling I do not know WHAT to believe and what to discard.
If you like a good scandal, this is your book. If you want historical facts, look elsewhere