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Of G-Men and Eggheads: The FBI and the New…
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Of G-Men and Eggheads: The FBI and the New York Intellectuals

by John Rodden

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As I started to write this review I looked with interest at the 3 reviews already on Amazon. Reviewer Jill-Elizabeth (Jill Franclemont) gives it four stars as a study in JE Hoover's paranoia. Reviewer She Treads Softly gives it three stars for its meticulous research and presentation of historical records. Reviewer David Wineberg gives it only two stars because the author lashes together and makes a raft of three ordinary people who never spent any time together in order to float his personal campaign against surveillance.

I think all of these are true views of the book and urge you to take them seriously before deciding to read. I would also urge you to consider that Mr. Rodden's writing style is blindingly dull.

I received a review copy of "Of G-Men and Eggheads: The FBI and the New York Intellectuals" by John Rodden (University of Illinois Press) through NetGalley.com. ( )
  Dokfintong | May 19, 2017 |
Of G-Men and Eggheads: The FBI and the New York Intellectuals by John Rodden is a recommended account of the FBI files kept on three men: Irving Howe, Dwight Macdonald, and Lionel Trilling.

"During the Cold War, dissent against U.S. international policy was looked upon as inherently suspicious. No one was more suspicious than outspoken left-leaning intellectuals, especially those who lived in Manhattan. For national security reasons, the federal government expended considerable resources surveilling men and women who might harbor communist sympathies and exert influence over others. In this book, John Rodden reveals how the FBI and CIA kept track of three highly regarded New York intellectuals--Lionel Trilling, Dwight Macdonald, and Irving Howe"

Three mid-20th century American intellectuals were investigated by and had extensive files kept on them by the FBI. It was under the assumption that they all presented some kind of security risk and anti-American sentiments. Although each of them were "critical Americans" in that they raised questions about policy or government activities, they did not warrant the scrutiny or the intense surveillance by the FBI. With all the current questions about FBI investigations, the NSA collecting data on and tracking Americans, and privacy concerns of average citizens, Of G-Men and Eggheads raises some important questions about how much surveillance we will allow to be conducted on citizens today. Where is the line of personal privacy versus public safety.

This is a well-researched presentation of the historical records. The text includes photos, notes, and an index.

I might have rated this higher if my review copy wasn't one that left out the letters "f, i, l, t." It makes it a struggle to smoothly read the text and, sometimes, decipher the words. Also, all dates were left out of my copy so I had to do my own research while reading the book. Two examples of what I had to wade through should make my struggles real to those who don't read advanced reading copies for review purposes:
"War of – (and again a er ) lay in Russia. e immigration of such Russian Jews into the United States o en raised"
and
"this seasoned veteran of internecine Le sectarian warfare would have proudly brandished his les of yesteryear"
Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher/author. ( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Jan 22, 2017 |
John Rodden has ulterior motives - a second agenda. He has written a book, nominally about the FBI tracking three eastern intellectuals, in order for him to instill the fear of such investigations. Nominally, the book is an examination of the intellectual lives of Lionel Trilling, Irving Howe and Dwight Macdonald. The FBI files on them are employed to verify how wrong, superficial, supercilious and pointless their tracking was. They were, after all, not only no threat to the USA, but patriots – anti-communists, anti-Stalinists, and anti-Nazi. Nonetheless, the FBI intercepted their mail, interviewed employers and colleagues, and occasionally, accosted them in sudden interviews. No charges were ever laid against them. They were not blackballed or fired. Their lives were not ruined. The target victims are never together in the book. The only things they had in common were FBI files and articles published in Partisan Review. Rodden doesn’t tie anything together at all. There is no drama, no tension and no climax.

And the conclusion to Of G-Men and Eggheads has nothing whatever to do with them, either. Instead, Rodden pleads with us to guard our privacy from Orwell’s Big Brother. Besides the fact that it is far too late for that, the conclusion has just a bare thread of connection to the stories he has just painstakingly told. It seems George Orwell communicated with all of them.

The other problem was the nature of FBI investigations in general. Hoover had everyone who was anyone investigated. From Elvis Presley to Muhammad Ali and a boatload of Hollywood movie stars, the FBI spent endless taxpayer dollars working up files on pretty much everyone even close to the public eye. The three stories Rodden develops are particularly unspecial and inconsequential. They are examples of paranoia, stupidity and waste. About the only new insight was that FBI agents never actually read the works of their targets. If they had, they would have reported that their investigations were misguided and should be closed. Instead, they plowed ahead blindly, building up pointless evidence that had to lead nowhere. Like this book.

David Wineberg ( )
  DavidWineberg | Nov 11, 2016 |
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