Reading "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover" was an edifying, revelatory, and startling experience. I place special emphasis on "STARTLING", because though I had some prior knowledge of Hoover's abuses of power and misdeeds as FBI Director, it was not until reading this book that the full magnitude of them became all too clear.
Summers --- who carried out more than a decade of extensive and voluminous research on Hoover's life and career and conducted hundreds of interviews with people from various walks of life who knew Hoover personally, politicians and policymakers, former FBI agents, and retired high-level officials who served under Hoover at FBI Headquarters in Washington ---- has done a fantastic job of bringing to light a man, who, belying the public image he had carefully crafted of himself for close to 50 years as one of the nation's chief law enforcement officers non-pareil, was in truth a hateful, racist, and rigidly dogmatic man. Nor was he above resorting to blackmail to achieve his aims. Yet, Hoover's rise to power was not inevitable. But through his playing upon the sensitivities of Presidents and Members of Congress, he made himself the indispensable civil servant. For instance, it was Franklin Roosevelt, a former President I much admire for the good things he did for this country (and by extension, the world), who gave Hoover in the 1930s wide-ranging authority to wiretap anyone considered as a potential security risk. (Hoover knew of Roosevelt's love for political gossip/intelligence and eagerly shared with him transcripts his agents compiled from wiretaps.) This included politicians, intellectuals, and various social organizations. Indeed, "[t]he FBI's surveillance index, started in 1941, contains 13,500 entries. While the identities of the individuals tapped is withheld on privacy grounds, the index establishes that Edgar's FBI tapped or bugged thirteen labor unions, eighty-five radical political groups and twenty-two civil rights organizations." --- p. 133.
I'd like to cite from this book the following remarks, which, for me, sums up J. Edgar Hoover and his dark legacy:
"Hoover's whole life" (observed Dr. John Money, Professor of Medical Psychology at Johns Hopkins University) "was one of haunting and hounding people over their sexuality, brutalizing them one way or another because of it. He took on the role of being the paragon, keeping the country morally clean, yet hid his own sexual side [i.e. his homosexuality and travestism]. His terrible thing was that he needed constantly to destroy other people in order to maintain himself. Many people like that break down and end up needing medical help. Hoover managed to live with his conflict --- by making others pay the price."
This book should serve as a cautionary tale for concerned people who believe in democratic government and cherish it to be ever watchful of powerful authority figures (whether elected or appointed) who may be abusing their positions to the detriment of others.