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Beverly Gage

J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century

4.5 (45 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

G-Man by Beverly Gage is a biography about J. Edgar Hoover, who transformed the FBI into a crime-fighting agency. It explores his private and public life, and the controversies surrounding him.

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    G-Man
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    The Making of the Man

    In another time and under other conditions, J. Edgar Hoover may have grown into a heroic figure. He was born into the Washington legacy, one of the first families of that town from its days as a roughshod village all the way through its emergence as a booming metropolis.

    Both sides of his family were well-established and on the rise. He had access to education and opportunity. He was, by nature, an intelligent, enterprising youth who sought to become the ideal man – although that may not have been an advantage.

    Unfortunately, Hoover’s character also contained some fatal flaws, likely acquired through family and social circumstances.

    At the time of Hoover’s upbringing, the newspapers were full of laments about the lack of strong, capable men. The masculine ideal seemed to have vanished, and so it was being put back into the public curriculum. From the masculine Christ to Teddy Roosevelt, the ideals of strength, courage, robust health, and integrity were elevated.

    Young Hoover worked hard to live up to these ideals and felt a great deal of shame over the weaknesses he saw in the men in his own family. From his grandfather’s suicide to his father’s declining mental health, Hoover felt embarrassed by their failure to live up to the masculine ideal.

    When he went to college, Hoover joined a fraternity called Kappa Alpha where he was indoctrinated in the southern white supremacist views of racial order. While studying, he took his first government position as a messenger at the Library of Congress where he developed his incredible skills at gathering, organizing, and cataloging data.

    When World War I erupted, he sought a government position in the Justice Department and avoided deployment. The Justice Department was where he began to shape himself into the man who’d build the FBI.

    Very quickly he proved his value to the department, becoming head of the Radical Division of the Bureau of Investigation in 1919. That year, he also got a new boss, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Under Palmer, he conducted his first of the well-known “Palmer Raids” against radical anarchists.

    Not only was this a first in terms of his achievement of spearheading a large-scale operation, it also marked the first time of any significance that he received negative attention for his actions. His entire youth he spent successfully ingratiating himself to authority figures. Now, he was shocked and upset by some heated criticism of the raid.

    This didn’t deter him from organizing and conducting a second round of raids against two communist groups on January 2, 1920. The exact number of arrests is unknown, but it was in the thousands.

    Again, he received backlash and the Labor Department withdrew its support. Rather than deport the communist dissidents en masse, they chose to investigate each detainee on a case-by-case basis resulting in far fewer deportations than Hoover had planned.

    The criticism he received revealed the kind of person and leader Hoover would continue to be. Rather than learn from it, he responded with vindictiveness, having his agents investigate – or rather, dig up dirt – on anyone who spoke out against him and the raids.

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    What is G-Man about?

    G-Man (2022) is a thorough and comprehensive biography of J. Edgar Hoover and the history of the FBI. Drawing from established history as well as newly uncovered documents, it covers the entire timeline of Hoover’s personal life as well as his role in shaping America as we know it.

    G-Man Review

    G-Man (2017) by Beverly Gage offers an intriguing look into the life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, the powerful head of the FBI for nearly five decades. Here's why this book is worth your time:

    • With meticulous research and compelling storytelling, Gage brings to light the complexities and controversies surrounding Hoover's role in American history.
    • The book delves into the inner workings of the FBI and its impact on politics, crime-fighting, and civil liberties, providing a deeper understanding of the era.
    • Gage's unbiased examination of Hoover's character and influence challenges preconceived notions, inviting readers to engage with a nuanced and thought-provoking narrative.

    Who should read G-Man?

    • American history buffs
    • People curious about J. Edgar Hoover
    • Anyone interested in the hidden forces influencing American politics

    About the Author

    Beverly Gage is an award-winning author and Yale professor of history and American studies. In addition to G-Man, she also wrote The Day Wall Street Exploded and she leads a monthly speaker series on modern US history.

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    G-Man FAQs 

    What is the main message of G-Man?

    Unveiling the complex life of J. Edgar Hoover, the book G-Man explores power, secrecy, and the lengths to which people will go to protect their interests.

    How long does it take to read G-Man?

    Reading time for G-Man may vary, but it typically takes a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is G-Man a good book? Is it worth reading?

    G-Man is a fascinating exploration of one of America's most controversial figures. It offers an intriguing perspective on power and the inner workings of the FBI.

    Who is the author of G-Man?

    Beverly Gage is the author of G-Man.

    What to read after G-Man?

    If you're wondering what to read next after G-Man, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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