A new biography of J. Edgar Hoover that draws from never-before-seen sources to create a portrait of a colossus who dominated half a century of American history and planted the seeds for much of today's conservative political landscape.
Crisply written, prodigiously researched, and frequently astonishing ... Gage certainly does not deny Hoover’s talent and taste for...dark arts, but she wants to emphasize a simpler explanation, one less flattering to America’s self-regard. For a very long time, most Americans admired Hoover ... There have been other big, ambitious biographies of Hoover, but G-Man is the first in nearly three decades. One advantage to writing about him now is that, in the realm of national security, revelations burble up over time, files get declassified, foia requests haul out unexpected specimens in their nets. But some of Gage’s freshest takes concern Hoover’s upbringing in a respectably middle-class but emotionally beleaguered family, and the formation of his racial attitudes in a college fraternity with a sentimental attachment to the Jim Crow South. Many of the book’s other sharp assessments come not from secret documents but from generally available historical sources that the author has read with close attention or particular nuance.
... revelatory ... This book doesn’t rescue Hoover’s reputation but instead complicates it, deepening our understanding of him and, by extension, the country he served ... The myth of American exceptionalism relegated him to caricature, a supervillain who managed to cling to power only through devious means. But as G-Man vividly shows, Hoover was an exceedingly popular figure for much of his career ... part of what makes G-Man such a fascinating book is how much attention Gage pays to Hoover’s other side — that of the consummate bureaucrat who was determined to modernize and professionalize the F.B.I. As such, despite his obsession with secrecy, he left behind an enormous paper trail. “G-Man is the first major biography of Hoover in nearly three decades, and the first to make ample use of records that have become available in the intervening years, including documents from a Cold War decryption project known as Venona ... This is a humanizing biography, but I wouldn’t call it a sympathetic one — as Gage shows, Hoover accrued too much power and racked up too many abuses for him to be worthy of that. What she provides instead is an acknowledgment of the complexities that made Hoover who he was, while also charting the turbulent currents that eventually swept him aside.
Masterful ... Hoover’s story illustrates the unique power of biography to enter the life of another human being. The genre can provoke a rare response: It can persuade one to change one’s mind. This magical leap can happen when a good biographer is able to seduce the reader into understanding another soul. G-Man is Gage’s first biography, and she turns out to be a marvelous biographer ... After reading Gage, I have changed my mind about Hoover ... Gage’s biography now becomes the definitive work, not only because it is deeply biographical about the man but also because the author was able to tap into such previously classified sources as the records of Operation Solo ... This new material is simply stunning, and Gage uses it to write a highly nuanced — sometimes even sympathetic — account of the man.