cover image G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

Beverly Gage. Viking, $40 (864p) ISBN 978-0-670-02537-4

In this captivating biography, J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure as FBI director from 1924 to 1972 reveals “what Americans valued and fought over during those years, what we tolerated and what we refused to see.” Yale historian Gage (The Day Wall Street Exploded) meticulously tracks the highs and lows of Hoover’s career, including the Palmer raids of 1919–1920, the killing of gangster John Dillinger in 1934, the Kennedy assassination, and counterintelligence operations against the antiwar movement in the 1960s and ’70s. Special attention is paid to Hoover’s “extended campaign of vilification and harassment” against Martin Luther King Jr., which had some basis in anti-Communist paranoia, Gage notes, but mostly came from “the racism that often made [Hoover] see calls for justice as a threat to national security.” Gage also sheds valuable light on Hoover’s experience of his “gentle” father’s depression; his college membership in a Southern fraternity “founded in 1865 to preserve the cause of the white South,” whose members Hoover frequently recruited into the FBI; and his intimate relationship with his second-in-command, Clyde Tolson. Throughout, Gage persuasively explains how Hoover went from a nationally popular figure to becoming “a standard-bearer less for the unbounded promise of federal power than for its dangers.” Nuanced, incisive, and exhaustive, this is the definitive portrait of one of 20th-century America’s most consequential figures. (Nov.)