Monday, August 18, 2014
NONFICTION MONDAY: Master of Deceit by Marc Aronson
ABOUT THE BOOK
A fascinating and timely biography of J. Edgar Hoover from a Sibert Medalist.
"King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation."
Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit suicide. Who wrote this anonymous letter? The FBI. And the man behind it all was J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI's first director. In this unsparing exploration of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century, accomplished historian Marc Aronson unmasks the man behind the Bureau- his tangled family history and personal relationships; his own need for secrecy, deceit, and control; and the broad trends in American society that shaped his world. Hoover may have given America the security it wanted, but the secrets he knew gave him— and the Bureau — all the power he wanted. Using photographs, cartoons, movie posters, and FBI transcripts, Master of Deceit gives readers the necessary evidence to make their own conclusions. Here is a book about the twentieth century that blazes with questions and insights about our choices in the twenty-first.
Before reading this book I had heard of J. Edgar Hoover and the control he wielded over the FBI as well as the illegal activities he and his agency engaged in in their pursuit of 'justice.' But after reading this book I now have a much better understanding of exactly the sort of things Hoover and the FBI accomplished, both good and bad. Aronson does a great job of showing that while Hoover went too far in many cases the threats he feared were all too real. As I read this, the question that presented itself to me over and over was, Do the ends justify the means? In my opinion, the answer is no. If we use the same methods that our enemies use then we become just like them. But Hoover didn't agree and it shows in the atmosphere of secrecy and illegal procedures that Hoover created.
One thing that I really liked about Aronson's presentation was his detailed presentation of the environment in which Hoover lived. The gangster era, the Depression, World War II, and the anti-Communist era all helped create Hoover and the other men in power. That does not of course justify the often illegal means they used to get their way or the lives they ruined along the way, it just creates a clearer picture of the time period.
Interestingly enough, Hoover himself generated numerous rumors and secrets that even today don't have definitive answers. Aronson does not shy away from these issues that would have been very scandalous during Hoover's time. This creates a book that presents many issues that would make for some very interesting discussions. As always, I appreciated the author's note at the end that explained the approach the author took in researching and presenting his subject.
For other nonfiction recommendations check out the Nonfiction Monday blog.