Author & Speaker

The Groaning Bookshelf

After a few years in the Writing Game, people start to send you books as they come out, which is mostly good. Sometimes, though, the pile begins to overwhelm. I am in such a period right now. To motivate myself to get under way on these, I offer a quick spin through the goodies brought by our friends at the Postal Service.
Young J. Edgar, by Kenneth D. Ackerman, in paperback. Ken’s a friend, and I actually read this one as it was written. It covers the Red Scare of 1919, after World War I, when a hard-charging kid in his mid-20s named J. Edgar Hoover took charge of the government’s oppressive tactics towards Reds, anarchists, and people with funny names.
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Lots of great stuff in here: the FBI’s vaunted file of background information on every American was based on the Dewey Decimal System, which Edgar learned while cataloging books for the Library of Congress; Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt responding to a bombing on their block; and Clarence Darrow on the ramparts.
And just take a look at the guy in the cover photo above. Does he look like a great bureaucratic infighter, or what?
1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon, by David Pietrusza. The writer, who I met at a talk I gave in Albany, NY, did an earlier book I read and admired with the same structure — it was 1920: The Year of Six Presidents. His device is to take a pivotal presidential election that’s chock full of Big Characters, and tell the story in a lively narrative that features the people as well as the consequences. 1920 taught me about an FDR gay-bashing episode while Secretary of the Navy that was a revelation.
This new one will not be released until September, but again has a great cast. The election of 1960 featured three men who would occupy the White House for the next 14 years, each of whom would have great successes and terrible failures.
The Day Freedom Died, The Colfax Massacre the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction, by Charles Lane, was not a freebie. I’m only about half-way through so far, but it tells a horrifying story of what went on in Louisiana in 1875. I’m looking forward to its discussion of the Supreme Court litigation that (one presumes) brought no justice to the miserable situation.
A comparable story is told well in Stephen Budiansky’s The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox, which covers the brutal tactics used in South Carolina to restore White Supremacy at the same time.