The Boss

J. Edgar Hoover and the Great American Inquisition

Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox
Book Cover

HC: $34.50
EAN: 978-0-87722-532-4
Publication: Apr 88

504 pages

27 halftones

The definitive biography of J. Edgar Hoover with unprecedented accuracy and comprehensive evidence


In 1925 J. Edgar Hoover secretly began to maintain in his own office the "Obscene File"and two other files which were kept separate from the FBI's central records system and which recorded accounts of sexual activities and damaging personal information on dissident activists, prominent leaders and personalities, even Presidents and First Ladies. In addition, Hoover had his aides keep "summary memoranda" on members of Congress reporting on their "subversive activities" and "immoral conduct." He also had aides create office files in which memoranda labeled "Do Not File" itemized illegal break-ins by agents authorized by Hoover; these "files" were also kept apart from the Bureau's central records and were regularly destroyed.

Having cracked Hoover's secret filing systems, Athan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox present with unprecedented accuracy and comprehensive primary evidence the definitive biography of J. Edgar Hoover, the man who was the FBI for 48 years. The Boss draws on previously unknown and extremely sensitive Bureau files as well as interviews with Hoover family members, agents, politicians, and "targets" of FBI investigations to reveal the man, the administrator, and the power-monger who manipulated American politics for half a century.

Although many relevant records were destroyed, the authors obtained access to office files maintained by Hoover and two of his key aides, Clyde Tolson and Louis Nichols, in addition to other sensitive records, such as the break-in file, index for authorized wire-taps and bugs, Hoover's directives to heads of FBI field offices and agents, and files pertaining to prominent personalities including Eleanor Roosevelt, John and Robert Kennedy, Attorneys General Harlan Stone and Homer Cummings.

Throughout his tenure in office, Hoover promoted a positive image of G-men as efficient, professional, and apolitical. His own public persona is so well-known as to be a staple of the nation's mythology, It was, however, his personal zealotry against radical dissent (broadly defined) that motivated the Bureau's operations. His files reveal that more than Senator Joseph McCarthy, Hoover was instrumental in creating the anti-Communist paranoia that was called McCarthyism, but, the authors suggest, would have been more accurately named Hooverism. Under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI kept 25 million personal files—that is, approximately one for every ten Americans.


"This strong book proves that, at the top, the bureau was turned into what could be called the H.B.I. (Hoover Bureau of Investigation).... Unlike some recent Hoover biographers, the authors do not make apologies for the excesses of 'The Boss.' They have the goods on him. A compelling study."
Herbert Mitgang, New York Times Book Review

"I thought I had a fair idea of the damage done to American freedom by J. Edgar Hoover, but I knew nothing until I read The Boss . It is a gripping, nauseating account of a twisted character—and of the underside of the American psyche, which he manipulated so effectively."
Anthony Lewis

"Theoharis and Cox, from a study of previously inaccessible FBI files plus extensive interviews, shed further light on the methods by which Hoover attained, employed and abused power, demonstrating that 'The Boss' more proficiently undermined our constitutional guarantees than any political leader before or since. ...This important biography adds significantly to the growing dossier demythologizing a legend."
Publishers Weekly

About the Author(s)

Athan G. Theoharis (1936-2021) Professor of History at Marquette University, is the author and editor of many books, including Beyond the Hiss Case and Spying on Americans (both published by Temple).

John Stuart Cox is a freelance writer.