“King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. . . . You better take it before your filthy, abnormal, fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

Dr. Martin Luther King received this demand in an anonymous letter in 1964. He believed that the letter was telling him to commit suicide. Who wrote this anonymous letter? The FBI. And the man behind it all was J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director.

In this unsparing exploration of one of the most powerful Americans of the twentieth century, accomplished historian Marc Aronson unmasks the man behind the Bureau- his tangled family history and personal relationships; his own need for secrecy, deceit, and control; and the broad trends in American society that shaped his world.

Available now on Amazon or IndieBound


Hoover may have given America the security it wanted, but the secrets he knew gave him – and the Bureau – all the power he wanted. Using photographs, cartoons, movie posters, and FBI transcripts, Master of Deceit gives readers the necessary evidence to make their own conclusions. Here is a book about the twentieth century that blazes with questions and insights about our choices in the twenty-first.

From a Kirus Starred Review:

In fascinating detail, Aronson tells the story of America during J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as head of the FBI and “the nearly fifty years of criminal activity that was his legacy.”
For today’s students, Communism and anti-Communism are “just terms that appear on tests, like the Whig, Greenback, or Know-Nothing parties,” but this volume brings alive the drama of the Cold War period and demonstrates its significance for readers now. Taking his title from Hoover’s 1958 work on the dangers of Communism, Aronson writes about the dangers of a “security at all costs” mentality during the Cold War and, by extension, our post-9/11 world. He covers a large slice of history—the Palmer raids of 1919, the gangster era, the Scottsboro case, World War II, the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, the civil rights movement and Watergate—but this is no mere recitation of the facts; it’s a masterpiece of historical narrative, with the momentum of a thrilling novel and the historical detail of the best nonfiction. With references as far-flung as Karl Marx, Stalin, Wordsworth, American Idol, The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings, this is as much about how history is written as it is about Hoover and his times. Extensive backmatter includes fascinating comments on the research, thorough source notes that are actually interesting to read and a lengthy bibliography.
Written with the authority of a fine writer with an inquiring mind, this dramatic story is history writing at its best. (Nonfiction. 14 & up)

From School Library Journal Starred Review:

Gr 9 Up–We hear a great deal in the media about the loss or watering down of American values. If Master of Deceit makes nothing else clear, it shows plainly that these issues are far from new, and that powerful people have always attempted to shape events and trends in ways that benefited them. It begins with a prologue discussing a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1964, a letter that threatened him with exposure of being a Communist pawn unless he committed suicide. It was penned by an FBI official in an attempt to impress his boss, J. Edgar Hoover.

The text moves on to give a lucid account of the rise of the Communist Party in both Russia and the United States. It parallels the lives of John Reed and J. Edgar Hoover, showing the varying impacts of two strong personalities, and then moves on chronologically to cover the main events of Hoover’s life. Relying on wide reading and vast research, Aronson paints a nuanced and evenhanded portrait of a man who was complicated, almost certainly neurotic, and who had an iron will to control–both himself and others. Thoroughly discussing the FBI’s role in law enforcement, the McCarthy witch hunts and HUAC, campaigns against Dr. King and civil rights, and comparing the egregious violations of individual rights and due process committed by the agency to the conduct of post-9/11 containment and treatment of Arab Americans, this book is a must for high school students. Extensive use of black-and-white photos and period cartoons greatly enhances the text. The author’s closing note on “How I Researched and Wrote This Book” is both revelatory and engaging. This groundbreaking volume will encourage dialogue on tough issues of integrity, security, individual rights, and the shifting sands of American values.

–Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA

From Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Starred Review:

[T]his book is not and should not be just about Hoover,” Aronson (Trapped) tells readers in the epilogue to this wide-ranging, extensively researched, and detailed biography of the controversial 20th-century FBI director. He’s not kidding: Hoover’s story unfolds against the tumultuous immigrant history of the U.S. and the growth of the FBI, which Hoover molded for more than 40 years. Hoover emerges as a magnified example of abusive governmental power, portrayed as a controlling conformist who was organized, intelligent, sexually suppressed, and manipulative. Aronson’s stimulating questions (“[W]ho is the bigger liar: the capitalist who teases the poor with images of goods they cannot afford or the Communist who hypnotizes the masses with empty slogans and false ideals?”), and his occasional use of first- and second-person, will wake up readers accustomed to less in-your-face historical narratives. The book does an excellent job of creating parallels between America’s anticommunist efforts and the current fight against terrorism as it questions the price of security and the media’s roles in keeping secrets. Period photographs, movie posters, cartoons, and FBI documents supplement a biography abounding in historical context.

Award-winning author Marc Aronson available as guest expert on J. Edgar Hoover.

Planning a segment on the new Hoover biopic starring DiCaprio?

Movie buzz is heating up and there will be lots of controversy about how this powerful figure in American history is depicted.
Aronson’s upcoming book, Master of Deceit: J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies is scheduled to release in early 2012.

Master of Deceit brings readers up on the latest insights into J. Edgar Hoover, including never before published photos that help answer key questions:

What were Hoover’s secrets?

* Was he a closeted gay? Aronson says probably not

* Did he cross-dress? Aronson says no

* What was his relationship with Clyde Tolson? Aronson says, really interesting–including that they dressed identically for a decade

* Why does Hoover matter? Aronson says because he was in power for 48 years — half of the 20th Century, and his example is a key warning for us now

* Why was he so prejudiced against African-Americans? Aronson says possibly due to secrets in his own family

* Who gave Hoover the OK to pursue “subversives” without congressional approval? Aronson says FDR

About the author: Marc Aronson has a doctorate in American history and is a member of the graduate faculty in the library school at Rutgers. He is an editor and author of many award-winning books including War Is . . . Soldiers, Survivors, and Storytellers Talk about War, which he co-edited with Patty Campbell; Trapped: How the World Rescued 33 Miners from 2,000 Feet Below the Chilean Desert; and Sir Walter Raleigh and the Quest for El Dorado, the first Sibert Medal winner. Marc Aronson lives in New Jersey.

“In researching and writing this book I learned to trust myself — to speak out even when everyone else seems to share a different view. Hoover silenced dissent both within the FBI and in American society. But so too did the Communist Party. The evil was never on one side — it was in silence.” — Marc Aronson