Marc Aronson Peers into J. Edgar Hoover's Domain

By MacPherson, Karen | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), May 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Marc Aronson Peers into J. Edgar Hoover's Domain


MacPherson, Karen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


A few years ago, Marc Aronson was asked to write a nonfiction book for teens about Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose efforts to ferret out communists in the United States terrorized many American citizens in the 1950s.

Mr. Aronson, an editor, a university professor and an award- winning nonfiction author for young adults, had just completed a book about the Salem witch trials, "Witch Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials."

"The editor for that book asked if I wanted to do a book on McCarthy, as a kind of modern-day parallel to the Salem witch trials," he said in a recent interview.

As Mr. Aronson began researching McCarthy, however, one name kept cropping up: J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, better known as the FBI.

"As I began studying the era, I realized that McCarthy had four years of power -- Hoover had 48," Mr. Aronson said. In addition, there hadn't been a biography of Hoover published for teens in years.

So Mr. Aronson, who has a doctorate in American history, decided to write a biography of Hoover, instead of focusing on McCarthy. The result is a meticulously researched page-turner, "Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies" (Candlewick Press, $25.99).

The compelling book title presages Mr. Aronson's in-your-face writing style, which makes this biography read like a novel. He also uses photographs, different type fonts and other graphic design elements to "immerse readers," as he puts it, in Hoover's life and the time in which he lived.

In "Master of Deceit," Mr. Aronson paints a portrait of a man with an abiding love of secrets and influence, consummate political skills and near-superhuman self-control.

Hoover rose to power at a time when Americans were increasingly concerned about foreign radicals, particularly communists. This fear, combined with Hoover's outsized personality, allowed him to build the FBI into a fiefdom that was virtually untouchable by politicians and regulators.

Hoover made it his business to quietly learn the darkest secrets of both his allies and his enemies, and then pigeonholed that information in his "off-the-books" filing system, ready to be disclosed -- if necessary -- at Hoover's discretion.

"Hoover was the mastermind of an empire of secrets designed to terrify and silence anyone he disagreed with or disliked," Mr. Aronson writes.

For example, Hoover was convinced that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist "pawn," Mr. Aronson said. So the FBI bugged hotel rooms where King stayed. They found no proof that he was a communist, but they discovered that King, a married man, was having affairs and unsuccessfully tried to blackmail him. …

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