cover image Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power

Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power

Seth Rosenfeld. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (720p) ISBN 978-0-374-25700-2

While working as an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle, Rosenfeld sued the FBI four times over the past 30 years to obtain confidential records under the Freedom of Information Act regarding the agency’s covert campus activities at UC-Berkeley during the 1960s. Eventually compelling the FBI to release more than 250,000 pages from their files, he painstakingly recreates the dramatic—and unsettling—history of how J. Edgar Hoover worked closely with then California governor Ronald Reagan to undermine student dissent, arrest and expel members of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, and fire the University of California’s liberal president, Clark Kerr. Rosenfeld’s vivid narrative focuses on three men: Kerr, who played a key role in guaranteeing all Californians access to higher education; Mario Savio, the charismatic student activist who led the Free Speech movement; and the ambitious Reagan, who was a more active FBI informer in his Hollywood days than previously known. By tracing the FBI’s involvement with these figures, Rosenfeld reveals how the agency’s counterintelligence program took tactics originally developed for use against foreign adversaries during the cold war and turned them on domestic groups whose politics the agency considered “un-American.” Rosenfeld also draws on court transcripts, newspaper archives, oral histories, historical works, and hundreds of interviews. The result is narrative nonfiction at its best. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Aug.)