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Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties Paperback – Bargain Price, April 1, 2008
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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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
There are admittedly a number of proofreading errors, but I attribute those to the editors, not the author. There is, for example, a footnote reference to Benjamin Cardozo's succeeding Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. on the Supreme Court in 1923; it was in fact in 1932 (I assume the numerals were transposed). And there are other minor proofing errors that I wish were not there, but that did damage the effect of Ackerman's research.
And, as another reviewer has said, Ackerman does not engage in hyperbole in attacking J. Edgar Hoover. JEH's shortcomings and defects are obvious enough in his actual conduct and behavior. The author correctly saw that he did not have to add commentary to the documented conduct itself.
This book is just terrific.
The Post-WWI Red Scare was a highly complex phenomenon, just like the early Cold War Red Scare, yet the author manages to guide the reader through a Byzantine series of events by focusing on a single character, none other than J. Edgar Hoover, whose own career ambitions appear to have led him to be the spark plug behind the deportation of thousands of suspected communists and anarchists. Among other things, this book helps to illustrate the way that even broad social trends and sweeps of history can be influenced by one person at the right place at the right time. Or wrong person at wrong time, depending on your point of view. If a different person had been in his position, the bombing of Palmer's house might have slowly fizzled out. Thanks to Hoover's drive and ambition, it turned into one of the worst episodes in national history, in terms of respect for law and Constitution. Or, from another point of view, Hoover, by pluck and determination, cut through his own version of gridlock to achieve results against a national threat. Pick your interpretation; you'll find justification for both.
And, as others have noted, the writing is as gripping as a good thriller novel. It was hard to put the book down, but I did so in order to enjoy it across more days.
I enjoyed this book a lot and believe I understand the time period better by having read it.