For some reason I have never been interested in J Edgar Hoover despite years of sometimes shocking, sometimes hilarious would-be exposes of the man and the organization he created, the FBI. Recently, reading a book about the Kennedy administration and the feud between Bobby Kennedy and Hoover, I realized it was time to find out more about America's No 1 G-Man.
The best known book about Hoover seems to be Official and Confidential by Anthony Summers, which seems to be a bit sensationalized. So I chose to read Richard Hack's Puppetmaster. And it was a good choice. Hack manages somehow to maintain an unbiased view of a man whom it is easy to criticize but who did create today's invaluable FBI with its fingerprint files and forensic laboratories.
Hack also keeps the book lean. There is no chapter that wanders, no redundancy, nothing extraneous. The prose is terse and to the point. The picture of Hoover that emerges is of a man dedicated to his country and to his agency but who went too far and spoiled in his later years the work he did early on when he took an agency that was known for rampant corruption (these were the days of Teapot Dome), cleaned it up, raised its visibility, and made it work. His standards were exceedingly high and he expected total devotion from the men (and for many years it was only men and white men at that) who represented America's Federal Bureau of Investigation.
And the rumors about Hoover's homosexuality and his relationship to his close friend, Clyde Tolson? Just that, says Hack. There is no evidence that Hoover was ever in a relationship with a man. As for his relationship with Dorothy Lamour, that's a different story.
Hack has written fine biographies of Howard Hughes and Agatha Christie and a joint biography of Richard Murdock and Ted Turner. He is the man who grew the Hollywood Reporter into a worthy competitor of Variety. His work is highly regarded by the reviewing media. And by me.