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04.23.08

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Phaedra

J. Edgar Hoover

A Graphic Biography

By Richard von Busack


The able and intelligent Rick Geary, a Metro contributor, is a caricaturist in the same sense that Flaubert was a writer of sketches. Geary's art is restrained but sardonic. He is handy with quiet scenes of domestic life; note a drawing of Hoover's pets, a pair of cairn terriers: impassive, ominous, with ratlike black eyes. And yet there's plenty of graphic punch in Geary's depiction of the death of John Dillinger. This graphic biography of J. Edgar Hoover isn't a hatchet job, although Geary is summing up the life of one of the most arrogant and sinister figures in American history. There's a muted sense of admiration for Hoover's "indomitable will," which decayed over the years into a secret-policeman's paranoia. Head of the Justice Department's Investigation Bureau by age 29, Hoover—a lifelong Washington insider—used both painstaking detective work and a thirst for personal publicity to keep him heading the FBI through six  presidencies. A ghost-written bestseller in the 1950s revived Hoover's reputation as a 1930s crimebuster. While Hoover ended the careers of numerous Depression-era gangsters, he also was blind to organized crime. Hoover's "Cointelpro" program (1956–1971) brought totalitarian methods to the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the famous victims of Hoover's anonymous letters, buggings and harassment. As for Hoover's personal life: Geary is too correct a biographer to endorse the legend that Hoover's bosom friend Clyde Tolson was more than "a longtime companion" in the fraternal sense of the term.


(By Rick Geary; Hill and Wang; 102 pages; $16.95 cloth.)


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