Barbara's Reviews > Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies

Master of Deceit by Marc Aronson
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Aug 02, 12

bookshelves: bullies, families, social-studies
Read in August, 2012

I consider myself something of a history buff, and have always enjoyed reading about famous figures in history. Since I grew up during the 1960s which part of this book covers, the name J. Edgar Hoover was one with which I was familiar. This book provides insight into this man who became so powerful and whose FBI also became so powerful that he could get away with keeping secret files, browbeating others, collecting information on those he feared, disliked, or suspected of harboring Communist sympathies. The book begins with a letter attempting to blackmail civil rights leader Martin Luther King and then briefly covers Hoover's childhood and rise to power over its eighteen chapters. Along the way, he covers Joseph McCarthy's attempts to ferret out Communists in the motion picture industry, the Rosenbergs' trial and execution, and even the waterboard torture used by our government after the fall of the Twin Towers in order to gain information from someone accused of a crime. Although that practice can't be laid at Hoover's feet, he certainly created layers upon layers of secrecy and paranoia that allowed it to occur. Clearly, Hoover was a master manipulator and skilled at self-promotion, and the author forms several conjectures about the motivations for the longtime FBI Director's own actions and his secrets, even addressing and shooting down rumors about Hoover's sexuality. But what is especially intriguing here is how deftly Aronson describes this nation during Hoover's reign and how inexorably he points out the link between the paranoia that gripped the nation during the Fifties and Sixties and the fear that panicked our government and citizenry after the events of September 11. As he sifts through the past, he also explores our future as he ponders the price of secrecy and security and the dangers of blissful unawareness of the dangers that lie around us. Questions Aronson raises that could be food for an entire semester of civics includes these: How far should our government be allowed to intrude in our lives in order to protect us? How might information obtained secretly be used against others? How thin is the line between gathering information and spying on one's fellow citizens?

Finally, this thoroughly engaging book brings historical figures to life again, describing their personalities and character traits. Hoover, for instance, is not painted solely with a black brush but with some attempt to understand his motivation and the times in which he lived. Readers will enjoy sifting through the photographs that fill the book's pages and relishing Aronson's description of his own research and writing process. This title is highly recommended, and prompted me to want to read even more about this ever-intriguing individual.
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