Winner of the 2023 Pulitzer Prize in Biography
Winner of the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography, the 2023 Bancroft Prize in American History and Diplomacy, and the 43rd LA Times Book Prize in Biography | Finalist for the 2023 PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography
Named a Best Book of 2022 by The Atlantic, The Washington Post and Smithsonian Magazine and a New York Times Top 100 Notable Books of 2022
“Masterful…This book is an enduring, formidable accomplishment, a monument to the power of biography [that] now becomes the definitive work”—The Washington Post
“A nuanced portrait in a league with the best of Ron Chernow and David McCullough.”—The Wall Street Journal
A major new biography of J Edgar Hoover that draws from never-before-seen sources to create a groundbreaking portrait of a colossus who dominated half a century of American history and planted the seeds for much of today's conservative political landscape.
We remember him as a bulldog--squat frame, bulging wide-set eyes, fearsome jowls--but in 1924, when he became director of the FBI, he had been the trim, dazzling wunderkind of the administrative state, buzzing with energy and big ideas for reform. He transformed a failing law-enforcement backwater, riddled with scandal, into a modern machine. He believed in the power of the federal government to do great things for the nation and its citizens. He also believed that certain people--many of them communists or racial minorities or both-- did not deserve to be included in that American project. Hoover rose to power and then stayed there, decade after decade, using the tools of state to create a personal fiefdom unrivaled in U.S. history.
Beverly Gage’s monumental work explores the full sweep of Hoover’s life and career, from his birth in 1895 to a modest Washington civil-service family through his death in 1972. In her nuanced and definitive portrait, Gage shows how Hoover was more than a one-dimensional tyrant and schemer who strong-armed the rest of the country into submission. As FBI director from 1924 through his death in 1972, he was a confidant, counselor, and adversary to eight U.S. presidents, four Republicans and four Democrats. Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson did the most to empower him, yet his closest friend among the eight was fellow anticommunist warrior Richard Nixon. Hoover was not above blackmail and intimidation, but he also embodied conservative values ranging from anticommunism to white supremacy to a crusading and politicized interpretation of Christianity. This garnered him the admiration of millions of Americans. He stayed in office for so long because many people, from the highest reaches of government down to the grassroots, wanted him there and supported what he was doing, thus creating the template that the political right has followed to transform its party.
G-Man places Hoover back where he once stood in American political history--not at the fringes, but at the center--and uses his story to explain the trajectories of governance, policing, race, ideology, political culture, and federal power as they evolved over the course of the 20th century.
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 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.