J. Edgar Hoover, the most powerful lawman in America for over fifty years, was also the country's most controversial and feared public servant. His career as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation spanned nine different presidential administrations and survived a dozen attempts to sweep him from office. During that time, Hoover completely reshaped domestic law enforcement as he expanded the reach of the FBI and transformed his G-men into an elite national crime fighting division. Despite his contributions to the criminal justice system, Hoover fell from favor soon after his death, the victim of rampant rumors and innuendo.
In Puppetmaster, author Richard Hack separates truth from fiction to reveal the most hidden secrets of Hoover's private life and exposes previously undisclosed conduct that threatened to compromise the security of the entire nation. Based on newly uncovered files and personal documents as well as over 100,000 pages of FBI memos and State Department papers, Hack rips the lid off the director's facade of propriety to detail a life replete with sexual indiscretions, criminal behavior and a long-standing alliance with the Mafia.
As in his smart biographies of Howard Hughes (Hughes) and Ted Turner/Rupert Murdoch (Clash of the Titans), Hack brings a novelist's flair for drama and a journalist's nose for truth to the life of another controversial figure. With unsourced renditions of Hoover's and others' internal monologues, Hack creates some transparency for the legendary FBI chief's tantalizingly opaque psyche. His most controversial conclusion about Hoover's private life is that, despite his weird intimacy with sidekick Clyde Tolson and his household collections of male nudes and Chinese ceramics, Hoover was not gay. Rather, he was dependent for sexual excitement on furtive perusal of smut from the FBI's Obscene Files and was enamored of certain Hollywood stars, named here. Hack's account of Hoover's public life, meanwhile, zings. He covers Hoover's career from his initial exploits tracking down dissidents through his headline-grabbing pursuit of Depression-era outlaws to his postwar crusade against left-wing subversion, one increasingly out of step with the country during his Vietnam-era decline. Hack's balanced but quite critical treatment details the brilliant self-promotion, which made Hoover a national hero, as well as the paranoid anticommunism, the secret files on presidents and pinkos alike, the illegal surveillance and wiretaps and the racist antagonism to the Civil Rights movement that later made him a villain in many eyes. Hack says too little about the FBI as an institution or its crime-fighting methods, treating it mainly as an extension of Hoover's personal and political agenda. But he does offer a live-wire biography of a determined, energetic, lonely and insecure man who comes off here as much a puppet as master, a consummate bureaucratic infighter all too pathetically aware of his vulnerability to shifts in political power. 6 pages of b&w photos. Correction: In our review of Louis Riel (Forecasts, Mar. 15), we referred to Riel as a fictional character. Riel was, in fact, a real person.