THE PUPPETMASTER: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover
As in his smart biographies of Howard Hughes (Hughes ) and Ted Turner/Rupert Murdoch (Clash of the Titans ), Hack brings a novelist's flair for drama and a journalist's nose for truth to the life of another controversial figure. With unsourced renditions of Hoover's and others' internal monologues, Hack creates some transparency for the legendary FBI chief's tantalizingly opaque psyche. His most controversial conclusion about Hoover's private life is that, despite his weird intimacy with sidekick Clyde Tolson and his household collections of male nudes and Chinese ceramics, Hoover was not gay. Rather, he was dependent for sexual excitement on furtive perusal of smut from the FBI's Obscene Files and was enamored of certain Hollywood stars, named here. Hack's account of Hoover's public life, meanwhile, zings. He covers Hoover's career from his initial exploits tracking down dissidents through his headline-grabbing pursuit of Depression-era outlaws to his postwar crusade against left-wing subversion, one increasingly out of step with the country during his Vietnam-era decline. Hack's balanced but quite critical treatment details the brilliant self-promotion, which made Hoover a national hero, as well as the paranoid anticommunism, the secret files on presidents and pinkos alike, the illegal surveillance and wiretaps and the racist antagonism to the Civil Rights movement that later made him a villain in many eyes. Hack says too little about the FBI as an institution or its crime-fighting methods, treating it mainly as an extension of Hoover's personal and political agenda. But he does offer a live-wire biography of a determined, energetic, lonely and insecure man who comes off here as much a puppet as master, a consummate bureaucratic infighter all too pathetically aware of his vulnerability to shifts in political power. 6 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
Correction: In our review of Louis Riel (Forecasts, Mar. 15), we referred to Riel as a fictional character. Riel was, in fact, a real person.
Release date: 04/01/2004