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Young J. Edgar: Hoover and the Red Scare, 1919-1920 Paperback – September 27, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

The eager beaver who organized the so-called Palmer Raids of 1919–20 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 strikes—in the wake of war and pandemic—that 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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Viral History Press LLC (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1619450011
  • ISBN-13: 978-1619450011
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,412,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loves the View VINE VOICE on September 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I knew the content would be interesting and was pleasantly surprised to see the well crafted text. The paragraphs flowed from page to page and chapter to chapter. It was hard to put down. Well selected photos accompany the text and add even more understanding.

This is more than a bio of one man, it is a bio of the times. I did not know that Hoover cut his bureaucratic teeth on the Red Scare, so this book rounds out his portrait for me.

Ackerman's engaging prose brings to life the colorful people of the times. He presents Palmer in all his complexity. President Wilson is totally detached not only from the Red Scare but also the upcoming election where he has a son-in-law in contention. The totally obscure Louis Post is a true hero. Many great legal minds, Frankfurter, Darrow, Cardozo, Holmes and others play a role. I had not known of the eccentric millionaire socialist Lloyd before nor the colorful immigration official from California, Caminetti.

The most intriguing story of all, of course, is Hoover's. The reader learns how his character and style were formed. As a young man he got away with a tremendous breach of the US Constitution and he lied to his mentors. He knew how and when to be on and off the stage and who to play up to. He was probably given a pass for his presumed honesty, long hours of work and his youth.

I was struck by narrow the decision making. Only a few people held the reins than made life impossible for many. While the book doesn't spell it out, I would imagine people lost their homes (be they foreclosures or evictions) and children went hungry. None of the perpetrators suffered much. Hoover went on to great "success", Caminetti went on to comfortable obscurity and Wilson is heralded for his international vision. Palmer suffers somewhat but not in proportion to his deeds. The main hero is virtually unknown to history.
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Format: Hardcover
And we thought Joe McCarthy invented "McCarthyism!" Fascinating and well written. We not only learn that Attorney General Mitchell Palmer wrote the book on creating mass hysteria to assault anything one happens to dislike, but we gain a broader understanding of how easily attitudes can be swayed for egregious purposes in this country. Given that Young J. Edgar earned his stripes by implementing Palmer's plans, it's not hard to understand how he could so easily pick and choose the information he wanted to assail Martin Luther King, Jr. and scores of others he disliked. Ackerman did his homework and presented it very nicely.
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Format: Hardcover
One line brought home to me how different the times were shortly after the First World War: ". . . a doctor told Edgar he needed to start smoking cigarettes to relax his nerves." But more important to this story of the Red Scare were the attitudes toward freedom of speech and individual legal rights that allowed wholesale abuses as the U.S. Government and the young, energetic J. Edgar attempted to remove every last threat of Communism through massive raids and deportations. As inconceivable as a medical doctor recommending cigarettes is the thought that running roughshod over legal rights on such a scale could happen without raising an immediate uproar in the press; what a difference 24 hour television news makes!

Understanding Hoover is critical to viewing the evolution of law and individual rights in America during the 20th century. For good or bad, he certainly had an impact during his half-century tenure and as Ackerman summarizes "Of all the experiences shaping him . . . none loomed larger that the Red Raids." The author gives us an excellent account of these events, the times, and important players including Felix Frankfurter, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Clarence Darrow.
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Format: Hardcover
An excellent biography of Hoover's early years--a time that is often eclipsed by the later years when Hoover was a well established bureaucrat. Young J. Edgar looks at the circumstances--surroundings and people--who led to the formation of the man. Ackerman's descriptions of the Palmer Raids of nearly 90 years ago can't help but make the reader think of post 9/11 America and the way "we" treat our own citizens and their "inalienable" civil rights. It really makes you think. America has to find a way to protect ourselves without losing sight of what makes this country great--freedom of speech, thought, religion etc. The freedom to ask questions and be different are two of the qualities that make America great. Pick up a copy of Young J. Edgar, learn about Hoover the man and the post WWI era, and let's try not to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
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Format: Hardcover
Post-WW ( period is not well understood in America and our history books hardly mention how fear and loathing of terrorists (anarchists and Bolsheviks) and their (real and potential) activities led to violent over-reaction by government. Suspension of rights and rule of law, warrantless break-ins and arrests, thousands of completely innocent citizens held without charge or access to counsel in sub-standard "holding" facilities, authoritarian override of law enforcement principles and practices without regard to rights (beating of those arrested, denial of access to medical services, denial of access by the press nad watchdog organizations, etc.
A very good book and very well-written!
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