Reading the Screen: J. Edgar Hoover reports that Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing J. Edgar Hoover in an upcoming biographical movie directed by Clint Eastwood. DiCaprio won’t be the first actor to play the controversial FBI director on the big screen — in fact, by rough count, he’ll be the 1,897th. Give or take. But I think he’ll do an excellent job.

I don’t know anything else about the project, except that it’s written by the author of Milk, a very good movie, but I’m excited already. I’m going to start boning up on Hoover, so I can see how Eastwood’s movie tackles him.

Young J. Edgar (2007), by Kenneth D. Ackerman, covers Hoover’s early, ambitious years, while Curt Gentry’s J. Edgar Hoover (1991) is broader, giving a good — and mostly balanced — account of the man’s unique perspectives on morality, race relations, and political power.

Puppetmaster: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover (2007) covers much of the same ground as other biographies (and there are a lot of other biographies), but reaches some different, and somewhat startling, conclusions about his personal life.

For younger readers, Barry Denenberg’s The True Story of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI (1993) is an accessible — if somewhat bowlderized — biography. A good introduction to Hoover’s life and career that should avoid a lot of awkward questions.

And for a very interesting look at the birth of the FBI (Hoover was its founding director), check out Public Enemies (2004), by Bryan Burroughs. It’s an exciting account of the 1993-34 crime wave that made media superstars out of criminals like John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd and lawmen like Melvin Purvis and Hoover. Michael Mann’s Public Enemies, with Billy Crudup as Hoover, was based on the book.

One more, just ’cause: The Hoover Files (1998), a Columbo novel by William Harrington. Our favorite — well, my favorite — homicide detective investigates the murder of a sleazy biographer whose latest project was to be an expose of Hoover. A nifty mixture of crime fiction and history.



About the Author:

David Pitt lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In addition to reviewing for Booklist, he writes a monthly column about paperback fiction and nonfiction for the Winnipeg Free Press. He has contributed to The Booklist Reader since 2010.

1 Comment on "Reading the Screen: J. Edgar Hoover"

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  1.' Keir says:

    I wonder if Leo will read any of James Ellroy’s recent trilogy for inspiration? I have mixed feelings about those books, but JEH is a remarkable character in them. (And I’m just now noticing the similarity in initials between author and FBI chief.)

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