'Dick, you will come to depend on Edgar. He is a pillar of strength in a city of weak men. You will rely on him time and time again to maintain security. He's the only one you can put your complete trust in': thus Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon, 1968. It is not often that a book casts fresh light on American history throughout this century, but this biography of Edgar Hoover does just that. Not only was Hoover, as head of the FBI, America's leading policeman: he enjoyed an extraordinary political longevity - his career, which ended under Richard Nixon, began under Woodrow Wilson. That Hoover persecuted Martin Luther King is notorious, but Hoover was also the man who drove Marcus Garvey out of America. Similarly, the Hoover who turned his malign attention upon the anti-Vietnam War movement was the same man who had, half a century before, hounded Emma Goldman and John Reed and, later, put Leon Trotsky under surveillance in Mexico. This longevity makes Hoover's biography a wonderful subject. Powers's book is painfully neutral and somewhat pedestrian at times, but his authoritative command of his sources makes it unlikely that it will be surpassed.
LRB 26 November 1987 | PDF Download