Anthony Summers' biography of J Edgar Hoover was first published in 1993, but has been reissued to tie in with the release of Clint Eastwood's big-budget movie (in which the squat, ugly Hoover is played by – who else? – Leonardo DiCaprio).
The book is more exciting, and more damning, than the film. Summers charges that Hoover, who founded the FBI in 1935 and remained at the helm for four decades, had a "crippled psyche", was "capable of great evil", enacted "a state of apartheid" in his offices, and "would have made a perfect high-level Nazi". Those are a few of the more benign accusations.
Official and Confidential abounds in juicy detail. The famously prudish Hoover was a different man in private. An acquaintance remembers him flouncing around a hotel room in a "fluffy black dress, lace stockings, high heels and a black curly wig". Others recall him participating enthusiastically in homosexual orgies.
Hoover was, in other words, a monumental hypocrite. He used his vast network of agents to persecute gay people and to blackmail philandering politicians. In a neat twist, his proclivities left him open to blackmail himself, notably by Mafia bosses who learned of his "secret life"; as a result Hoover went easy on organised crime.
Summers has no axe to grind, and he pulls no punches. This is bold, excoriating, unmissable stuff.