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Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  381 ratings  ·  78 reviews
A fascinating and timely biography of J. Edgar Hoover from a Sibert Medalist.

"King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation."
Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit
Hardcover, 230 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Candlewick (first published January 1st 2012)
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Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Master of Deceit is a highly-detailed biography about an FBI Director named J. Edgar Hoover, written by Marc Aronson. The book unravels into not just a biography but deep descriptions of U.S. immigrant history, and the general growth of the FBI during that time.

Hoover is portrayed as the prime example of abusing governmental power, and he’s held his position in molding the FBI for over 40 years. Hoover was a mastermind of an empire of secrets modeled to terrify and silence anyone who he dislike
Highly provocative, Aronson discusses how J. Edgar Hoover is both a hero and anti-hero. The book is actually best summed up in Aronson's last words "I hope Masters of Deceit shows that we must always question both the heroes we favor and the enemies we hate. We must remain openminded, even when the shadow of fear freezes our hearts." Learning about the 1940s through the present from the creation of the FBI, to Hoover's life as the head of the FBI (including his creation of databases before their ...more
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I learned more about J. Edgar Hoover's intimidation of MLK from CHASING KING'S KILLER and (I believe) from the movie Selma. I had never learned this in school ... and I started to wonder more about J. Edgar Hoover.... so I looked to see if there was a YA biography on the topic.... and lo and behold, Marc Aronson wrote the book!

This book borders high school and adult historical analysis in a few ways. It's a terrific first read about J. Edgar Hoover, but not a best first read about 20th century U
Dec 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audiobook, nonfiction
A timely book:

1. For it's content and the fact that it's even more relevant today with Obama expanding Bush's legal defense of warrantless wiretapping, the current controversy over gun laws along with the question of when does the right of gun ownership infringe upon the rights of non-gun owners, government forced illegal detention, and other issues that cite the safety of the American public as the rationale for the complete disregard for human rights.

2. With the new Common Core State Standards
Jan 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Aronson’s portrait of J. Edgar Hoover during his 40 year reign as the head of the FBI was riveting and to quote the author, “scary.” I didn’t really know much about Hoover and I was sickened by his tactics. Hoover blackmailed “everyone” by keeping secret files; he poisoned his staff with his directives and took advantage of his position whenever he felt the inclination. There was meticulous period research but this did not read like a history book but a superb thriller you can’t put down. This p ...more
Erik Graff
Nov 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: US citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
The text of this book was written for intelligent high schoolers, the notes and critical apparatus for their teachers. Although a essentially a biography of the founder and head of the F.B.I. contemporary issues regarding security vs. liberty, issues particularly relevant since 9-11, are addressed throughout.

Unlike other biographies of Hoover that I've read, this one is not entirely negative, nor is the author attracted to the wilder speculations about his personal life. Instead, there is an occ
Edward Sullivan
Nov 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A probing, insightful examination of the life and career of a notorious and complicated individual. Aronson does an excellent job of separating the facts from the myths about Hoover. He astutely draws parallels between past and present events, and raises many provocative and challenging questions for readers to consider. Hoover emerges from this book as a tragic character, one whose insatiable craving for power and control led to corrupt and lawless acts undermining his accomplishments in crime ...more
Richie Partington
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Richie's Picks: MASTER OF DECEIT: J. EDGAR HOOVER AND AMERICA IN THE AGE OF LIES by Marc Aronson, Candlewick, April 2012, 240p., ISBN: 978-0-7636-5619-5

"Saturday night I was downtown,
Working for the FBI."
-- A. Clarke, R. Cook, R. Greenaway, "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"

"FBI agents mastered the art of the 'black-bag job,' which meant breaking into the office of a person or organization to plant a microphone or to rifle through notebooks, diaries, and calendars. These undercover actions vio
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone concerned about our society
I'll be shocked if this doesn't win the Siebert or the YALSA excellence in nonfiction award or both next January. I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about history, although I'll admit that my focus does not tend to be American history. However, I learnt so much in this book about a substantial part of 20th century history! There is a bit of a focus almost inevitably, on the McCarthy era, but all of Hoover's life is examined. It is incredibly even handed in its aproach, noting things that lib ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it liked it
J. Edgar Hoover,was a man who wanted to be powerful, perfect and at the top. Marc Aronson lays out Hoover’s twisted rise to eventually head the Federal Bureau of Investigation. J. Edgar knew how to manipulate people and the media and he used this skill to his advantage. One of Hoover’s first tasks was to bring down the notorious John Dillinger, except someone else managed to beat him to it, but that didn’t stop Hoover from making sure the Bureau ended up getting all the credit. After taking on g ...more
Penny Peck
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-ya
In a complex book best-suited to high school students (and even adults!), Aronson describes how the FBI rose to power under J. Edgar Hoover. I think the book's focus on the bureau, and less on Hoover makes this best for the crime section and not the biography section of most libraries. I really appreciated the author's clear opinion that Hoover's ends did NOT justify his means, even if there were more Soviet spies than we would like to acknowledge. The author also refers the reader to specific f ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Interesting and thought provoking. Some of the asides aimed at making it appealing to teenage readers are a tad annoying to the general reader, but excellent annotated endnotes point that general reader in the direction of further reading.
Sep 22, 2012 rated it liked it
I liked many things about this book, but had some reservations, which I describe here:

Apr 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Master of Deceit by Marc Aronson was definitely heading toward 3.5, maybe 4 stars until I got to the Epilogue. Terrific finish and, as I understand this book is directed at younger readers, hopefully many will take in the wise words. I’d imagine if you’ve already read a bit about J. Edgar Hoover, there will be no startling insights (although far too many other books concentrate on his alleged homosexuality which Aronson deflects early in the piece). What primarily comes out of Aronson’s book is ...more
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
The questions Aronson poses are perhaps even more relevant today than they were at the time of this writing. Here he has provided a well-researched, detailed look at the life of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s beginning. Interwoven with tales of the Cold War, Watergate, and the Civil Rights Movement, Aronson provides critical insight into our nation’s history. As always, Aronson practically forces the reader to engage in critical thinking. Recommended.
Lisa Kizer
Mar 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I could not get enough of this book. A wonderful history of both JEH and the FBI, even has a moral to the story. Parts of the book came off a preachy but still worked well with the overall message of the book.
Wendy Cato
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Feeling anxious about the government? Power corrupts.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Rather didactic but interesting overview. Writing was about 8th grade level.
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good, but still a little boring because it’s nonfiction.
Nicola Mansfield
Reason for Reading: I know all about this history but I love the time period and was interested in how it would be rendered in a young adult book and whether it would show any bias, either way.

This is a book about very bad people. First, communists, a political group of mass murderers who have killed more of their own people than any single tyrant has killed in wars or holocausts in the entire history of the world. Second, a fanatic, a man who was an absolute fanatic and was given power, so much
Sep 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I didn't think a book about J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI and the Cold War would interest me so much, but I found this book fascinating and hard to put down. Written for the high school level and up, it details in a fascinating, thoroughly researched and objective way the lives of Hoover and many peripheral historical figures throughout the 60+ years the book covers, how Hoover built the FBI into a huge organization, how he kept files on everyone remotely suspicious of various crimes or just disse ...more
Aug 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 sy ...more
Shayleigh Melgar
Feb 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
timely deep book that i cannot deny that i will not read again and again. its quite the eye opener and changed perspective of how america really is
Allizabeth Collins
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it

Master of Deceit is a detailed account of the life, times, and "crimes" of J. Edgar Hoover from the 1920's to the 1960's. Special attention is given to Hoover's creation and directing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), as well as his impact on the future of the United States.


High school U.S. History classes definitely left out a few facts about J. Edgar Hoover - at least mine did. What I already knew: Hoover created the FBI; what I didn't know: he ran the FBI - or
Monica Edinger
Mar 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm old enough to remember J. Edgar Hoover and also old enough to want to forget all about him. However, young people are not me and so with a sigh I dutifully opened up Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies --- and was immediately gobsmacked by the start of the prologue:
FACT: In November 1964, William Sullivan, an assistant director of the FBI, set out to blackmail Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into killing himself.

With that Aronson had me and kept me until the end.
Oct 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
Who was J. Edgar Hoover? The man who created the FBI and today's efficient crime fighting tactics? The man who made people feel safe and who cherished America? Or was he the man who broke the very laws that make up the country he loved? Better yet, was he the man who hated communism and Stalin so much, that he started to act like a radical himself?

Hoover served a long 40 year career "protecting" our country. Known for his detailed index cards that cataloged suspicious people and groups, Hoover a
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I picked this book up at TLA and finally opened it. It is fascinating - well researched, thoughtfully written and a spellbinding story. On the surface it is a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, but it is more a biography of the times he lived and influenced. Aronson does a great job of simplifyiing the changing political winds of the various eras he oversaw, from 1930 s Prohibition through the McCarthy era. He offers perspectives on both sides of the curtain, from Hoover's perspective and from outsid ...more
This was a fascinating slice of 20th century American history. It's central focus was on how those who keep secrets tend to deny truth - even if it's for the sake of security - and then can create a culture of lies. On the other hand, it also shows how Hoover & the FBI did protect against threats to American security. This is a well balanced account. In some places, it was very detailed, in others it seemed to move swiftly over events (like World War 2). It was best in it's analysis of what we c ...more
Jun 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Fear paralyzes; democracy requires us to take a breath to let the emotion subside, and to think."

A well-researched treatment of recent history. Aronson has a balanced perspective, illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of different ideologies and the struggles and successes of historical personalities. Sometimes he uses strange analogies (McCarthy is like a guy at a party who is too rude, Hoover is like a mad doctor, etc.) and he once in a while he over-explains (do teenagers really not know
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya-nonfiction
A well researched and presented story of J. Edgar Hoover. This book can be used in some many ways by students in ELA and Social Studies classrooms. The opening provides a wonderful example of the use of text structure. Read the first 15 pages and see a great compare and contrast example for students working inside the common core standards across the country.
Students can create timelines on actions throughout the country and relate it to local situations. The use of visual literacy adds another
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Aronson has won many awards for his books for young readers and has a doctorate in American history. His lectures cover educational topics such as mysteries and controversies in American history, teenagers and their reading, the literary passions of boys, and always leave audiences asking for more.

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