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Enemies: A History of the FBI

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  2,839 ratings  ·  400 reviews
Enemies is the first definitive history of the FBI’s secret intelligence operations, from an author whose work on the Pentagon and the CIA won him the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
We think of the FBI as America’s police force. But secret intelligence is the Bureau’s first and foremost mission. Enemies is the story of how presidents have used the FBI as the
Hardcover, 537 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Random House
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3.90  · 
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 ·  2,839 ratings  ·  400 reviews

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Michael Finocchiaro
Tim Weiner's Enemies: A History of the FBI is an interesting book about the FBI's straddling the line between legal and illegal pursuit of criminals. The book spends a lot of time discussing the career and legacy of J Edgar Hoover dispelling myths (most evidence discounts the commonly held belief that he was a closeted homosexual) and describing in detail his relentless pursuit of power in his personal fight against Communism which colored most if not all of his tenure. There are some great, tim ...more
"A free people must have both security and liberty. They are warring forces, yet we cannot have one without the other."
When William Webster became Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1978, he was shocked to find that the FBI, spawned from the Bureau of Investigation in 1935, was without a legal framework for its activities and operations. Author Tim Weiner describes:
"The Bureau had no charter—a legal birth certificate from Congress spelling out its role. It had never had on
Feb 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
An alarming and sobering book, comparable to the same author's study on the CIA.

From the 1920s to 1972, the FBI was little more than the personal satrap of J. Edgar Hoover. From the First Red Scare, John Reed and Emma Goldman all the way up to the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement - he had almost total control over domestic intelligence. However, the FBI also acted as a foreign analysis and counterintelligence bureau, counteracting or competing with the CIA on multiple occasions.

Their re
Bill Shannon
May 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
J. Edgar Hoover is the main character in this book, at least for the first 2/3rds, and if there was ever any question that Hoover is one of the most consequential people in American history, that question no longer exists in my mind. But the Hoover of the book surprised me: my mind's eye had always pictured Hoover as a Machiavellian, power-hungry manipulator: the Master of Whispers of the American government.

But the Hoover I read about is less a scheming Edward G. Robinson type, and more of a d
May 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book i realized a couple things i didn't know before. One, that J. Edgar Hoover was probably the most powerful man in American history, only because of the amount of sway that he had on just about anyone. And two, that the FBI is this weird mix of 1984 and the Wizard of Oz, where you have this agency that is presumably watching you all the time but it does have a head; and that head, until his death, was J. Edgar.

I really love the fantastical element of his character. The daunting s
May 11, 2017 marked it as maybe
Recommended to Bettie☯ by: Rachel Maddow
Mar 23, 2012 added it
If you liked Legacy of Ashes, you'll like Enemies. The converse also applies; Weiner retains the fast-paced, journalistic style of Legacy - tantalising links are left hanging and background is left as exercise for the reader.

Like his biography of the Agency this effort starts to fade as it heads closer to the present, deprived of declassified documents and on-the-record testimony it starts to read as a recap of recent NYT/WaPo exposes and the insights become less and less penetrating - one wonde
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
An informative disturbing book on the history of the FBI, which at its worst moments has functioned as something like the United States version of the Stasi. As the book describes, for the first half century after its creation it was the tool of one man alone, J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover turned the bureau into a weapon to snuff out communist subversion in the United States. At the time of its creation the threat of revolution in America was real and the bureau was above all created to prevent such a ...more
Mar 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Dryly factual. Five stars for the overwhelmingly interesting facts, one star for the dry writing style which rarely goes into sufficient detail in its rush to recount large events often taking up large swaths of time. Of course, the detail I'm looking for would at least triple the length of the book, so you may disagree. The writing style would certainly make me hesitant to read three times the pages.

This book should be read by all Americans despite the intelligence-report style of writing. This
Tim Floyd
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book! I was really disturbed at how much intelligence was floating around before the 9/11 attacks. Even as far back as the mid-1990s. I have a lot greater respect for director Robert Mueller. Mueller was essentially thrown into the position (after battling an aggressive cancer) right as the 9/11 attacks happened. His resolve to maintain a bureau of integrity and legality is quite impressive. Knowing what Mueller is up to these days, it only reinforces my respect for the man. I ...more
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is not a pretty picture of the FBI. In fact, when you finish it, you wonder why we should be supporting this institution with our tax dollars. This book focuses on the FBI's role in terrorist activity prevention and investigation so I hope that the history of the FBI with regard to good old crime is better. Some info that I didn't know: The FBI for most of its existence didn't even have a viable information system to retrieve all the information it obtained, legally and otherwise. We heard ...more
Tess Mertens-Johnson
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love history, and this book follows the FBI from it’s beginning to modern times.
How – if the media from the bureau’s inception was then what it is today, life would be different.
I grew up in the 60s and 70s, and our history books at school were very “vanilla”.
This book goes into detail of the corruption and illegal doings of the people who are in charge of one of the most important departments in our law enforcement portfolio. The book discussed the need for the bureau and went into detail ab
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book kept my husband and me entertained through a trip to Phillie and then to Michigan for Memorial Day. Considering recent news, many of the names mentioned at the end of the book are in the news again. Of course, the first half (or more) of the book involves J. Edgar Hoover. Much of the book, we've lived through. It was just a matter of dusting off the cobwebs.
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
As I approach the midway point of Enemies: A History of the FBI I must confess I'm surprised at how easy the book has been to read. Being that J. Edgar Hoover was synonymous with the FBI, I'm not surprised to find that so far it is basically about the man who singlehandedly built the FBI to what it is today. Even knowing what I did about how Hoover used, and abused his powers to fight communism, I have still been shocked at how far he actually went to increase and retain the power that he welded ...more
Bryan Craig
Jun 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
This is another great installment (no. 2 of a projected trilogy) from Tim Weiner. The book focusing not on the criminal investigation side, but the intelligence side of the FBI. It is a hard look at an organization that had it share of controversy, mainly from Hoover's view that there is a Communist somewhere, possibly everywhere.

It really is a must read to understand how the FBI functioned, the lines it crossed, and its hope to return to the law, while trying to track down terrorists in the ne
Michael Burnam-Fink
Jun 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, non-fiction
The FBI has a carefully curated image as heroic G-men, busting major criminals like mafia dons, bank robbers, kidnappers, and art thieves (hello Robert K. Wittman). But behind the image is a paradox, the workings of a secret police agency in a democracy, a shadowy organization that operates beyond the normal boundaries of the law. In Enemies, Tim Weiner ably traces the paradoxes of the FBI in its long history.

The Bureau of Investigation (not yet Federal) existed before J. Edgar Hoover, but the f
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Why is it so hard for the United States to have an effective intelligence service and achieve a reasonable balance between individual rights and national security? Weiner’s history of the FBI had me asking that question and the likely answers were not comforting. Ever since 1917 when the Red Threat arose and J. Edgar Hoover joined what would become the FBI, abuse of power and confusion have been the hallmarks of the FBI. Hoover’s need to keep tight personal control meant the FBI was never proper ...more
Feb 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
The history of the FBI from its inception up to the early days of President Obama's first term in office. The FBI is an institution cloaked in secrecy and mystique, not all good, in the eyes of many Americans. What is great about how this author writes and approaches his subject is to dig deep into the details, line them up so that the facts tell the story all while drawing together disparate parts and weaving together relevant pieces to lay the story all out there. Victories to missed opportuni ...more
Christopher Saunders
Journalist and historian Weiner (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA) examines the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an intelligence agency, ferreting out spies, terrorists, internal dissidents and political enemies. It’s a different approach than most FBI histories - the Bureau’s famous, and infamous crimefighting exploits receive scant attention - but Weiner demonstrates how counterespionage was its true raison d’etre. Founded by Theodore Roosevelt to battle corporate crooks, during WWI a ...more
Kara Beal
Mar 16, 2015 rated it liked it
Upon finishing this book, my conclusion is that the history of the FBI can be boiled down to J. Edgar Hoover, warrantless wiretaps and black bag jobs (a phrase I learned that means breaking and entering for spying purposes). The FBI began it's life as the president's secret police force, then it branched into counter-intelligence during World War I. The scope of J. Edgar Hoover's power, and his willingness to abuse it, intimidated a string of presidents and attorneys general.

Hoover dies consider
Mark Mortensen
Apr 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: americana
Few authors would feel qualified to tackle a historical account of the FBI, but Tim Weiner had the qualifications and put forth an unbiased account. The overwhelming theme of the book follows’ Alexander Hamilton’s quote “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free”.

From its origin in the early 20th Century to present the FBI in its effort to protect America has accumulated and maintained vast files of personal information on Communists, mobsters and others
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in american history, the fbi, civil liberties
I got this book through a goodreads giveaway; that didn't affect my opinion.

Excellent, well-sourced work of relatively (can't expect total) impartial scholarship covering the history of the FBI, focusing on the Bureau as an intelligence organization (if you're interested in crime fighting, the mob, Waco, etc., you'll be disappointed). A tale of utter incompetence, constant leaks, constitutional infringements, blackmail, political infighting and abuses, miscommunication, petty jealousies, and que
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is not as much a comprehensive review on the history of the FBI as the title might suggest. It's more of a biography of J. Edgar Hoover and his interactions with the Presidents and the Attorneys General of his time with an elongated addendum of what happened after he died. This makes sense considering the book was created after a declassification of quite a bit of confidential documents made during Hoover's time. It's still an interesting read nonetheless, especially if you are interes ...more
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Current events have peaked my interest in everything from Watergate to the history of the FBI. I'd seen Weiner's Enemies cited by a number of media outlets as a definitive modern history of the institution, so I was excited to jump right in and see what history tells us about the FBI's current role in partisan squabbling. I have to admit, I was a bit surprised by a lot of what I found and simultaneously disheartened and assured by our present situation given some more historical context.

The book
Antonio Nunez
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wiener’s FBI book is very good. It is divided into two halves. After a brief prelude of a decade in which the bureau mostly chased anarchists and implemented the Red Scare, the story hits its stride when J Edgar Hoover was appointed director in 1924, a post he would vacate only upon his death in 1972. Hoover remade the Bureau in his own image: an image of honesty, patriotism and professionalism over a reality of dissimulation, paranoia and the trampling of civil liberties. Hoover worked well wit ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
This took me a while to read because it was a bit dry in spots, and I took some time this summer to slow down on my book reading (my news reading was at an all-time high, though!). But in the end, I enjoyed it quite a bit.

I'd love to pick the brains of current FBI agents and see what they think of J. Edgar Hoover. What a conundrum! He helped make the FBI as powerful as it is but wow, he did plenty of really shady and awful things.

I enjoyed the more modern history more than anything else becaus
Mar 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Given its length, you would think that this is a very thorough history of the FBI, but in reality it seems almost entirely to be about the FBI's unconstitutional (and for much of its history, at least, explicitly illegal) activities as a domestic spying agency. This book leaves my opinion of J. Edgar Hoover (the central character in most of the book) largely unchanged, in that I always though the was an awful sociopath - though I guess I didn't realize that he was also explicitly racist as well. ...more
Here's a quick summary of why you might want to read this: it's a well-researched and documented history of the FBI, including all the good and they bad, about Hoover in particular, but the good-bad stuff didn't end with him of course. Hoover led the FBI for 55 years (about 2/3 of its existence) and so there's a lot about him and his relationships with the many presidents who came and went over during his tenure. The last third of the book takes on the post-Hoover decades: how it slowly rose fro ...more
Mack Hayden
Sep 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: america, politics, history
I loved Tim Weiner's book on the CIA as well, but I really think he outdid himself with this one. He manages to comb through decades of people, investigations, scandals, etc. without ever missing a beat. It's engaging, informative, and essential—the FBI's successes aren't ignored, but neither are its myriad failures, moral lapses, and even outright crimes. While the tone here is critical, it'd be hard to call this book biased. Weiner paints the picture of a tragically, and sometimes comically, f ...more
Aug 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not so much shocking revelation after revelation, but more threading together a long history where various things make sense as part of a whole.

If there are times when an American citizen might be disappointed in their country and the law, well, that's not really a surprise, is it?

It is still good to see that there are people who serve honorably, and times when the government does the right thing.

The book fills in a lot of blanks for things of which I had heard but did not know the intricacies.
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Tim Weiner reported for The New York Times for many years as a foreign correspondent and as a national security correspondent in Washington, DC. He has won the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting and the National Book Award for LEGACY OF ASHES: The History of the CIA. His new book, out in July, is ONE MAN AGAINST THE WORLD: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon.
“[Re: J. Edgar Hoover] His knowledge was enormous, though his mind was narrow.” 5 likes
“The answer was Stellar Wind. The NSA would eavesdrop freely against Americans and aliens in the United States without probable cause or search warrants. It would mine and assay the electronic records of millions of telephone conversations—both callers and receivers—and the subject lines of e-mails, including names and Internet addresses. Then it would send the refined intelligence to the Bureau for action. Stellar Wind resurrected Cold War tactics with twenty-first-century technology. It let the FBI work with the NSA outside of the limits of the law. As Cheney knew from his days at the White House in the wake of Watergate, the NSA and the FBI had worked that way up until 1972, when the Supreme Court unanimously outlawed warrantless wiretaps. Stellar Wind blew past the Supreme Court on the authority of a dubious opinion sent to the White House the week that the Patriot Act became law. It came from John Yoo, a thirty-four-year-old lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel who had clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. Yoo wrote that the Constitution’s protections against warrantless searches and seizures did not apply to military operations in the United States. The NSA was a military agency; Congress had authorized Bush to use military force; therefore he had the power to use the NSA against anyone anywhere in America. The president was “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment,” Yoo wrote. So the FBI would be free as well.” 3 likes
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