Review: From the Secret Files of J Edgar Hoover — Athan Theoharis

Read: 16
To Go: 84

Book List:
11. Behaving Badly — Isabel Wolff
12. The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
13. Atonement — Ian McEwan
14. One Fifth Avenue — Candace Bushnell
15. Daughters-in-Law — Joanna Trollope
16. From the Secret Files of J Edgar Hoover — Athan Theoharis

Documents uncovered from the late FBI director’s secret files reveal for the first time the shocking extent of FBI activities in collecting and using derogatory information about prominent Americans and political groups. Historian Athan Theoharis charges that Hoover was an “indirect blackmailer,” exploiting the FBI’s resources to serve the political interests of the White House and to advance his own political and moral agenda. None of the documents in five separate secret files was intended ever to be disclosed; Mr. Theoharis procured them after intensive research in FBI files using the Freedom of Information Act. The memoranda, letters, telephone transcriptions, and other materials printed here detail a wide range of excesses and include Hoover’s providing information about political adversaries to the Johnson and Nixon White Houses; John F. Kennedy’s affair with Washington gossip columnist Inga Arvad; FBI monitoring of Supreme Court clerks and staff; the tracking of Adlai Stevenson by the FBI as a homosexual; Hoover’s interest in the drinking and sexual habits of congressmen; an anonymous letter attacking Martin Luther King, Jr., composed and sent to Dr. King by the FBI; and much more. Mr. Theoharis describes Hoover’s ingenious Do Not File system as well as the FBI’s Sex Deviate program and Obscene File.

So a funny thing happened while I was doing my history research: I ended up reading an entire book. Given that it’s more like a textbook than a real book, and that I’m just ridiculously burnt out right now, I’m not going to do a “proper” review. But I will say that Theoharis obviously went to a lot of trouble to attain the information contained in this book, which gave huge insights into the infamous man who, during his 48-year-tenure as Director, made the FBI his own personal machine. And even though I was reading it purely as a tool for my essay, it was really quite interesting.

And yes. This book does count towards the challenge total.

Next book: I’ve started Into the Heart of the Country by Pauline Holdstock but I’m not really enjoying it, so the review might be a long time coming.

– Kelsey

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