Gossip Men: J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, Roy Cohn, and the Politics of Insinuation

Univ. of Chicago. May 2021. 288p. ISBN 9780226624822. $35. HIST
Elias (history, American studies, St. Olaf Coll.) presents a social examination of three men whose legacies during the Cold War were tarnished by insinuations—some made by them, and some made about them. The author’s extended timeline begins in 1885 with one of the first gossip magazines, Town Topics, and follows the national surveillance state from the Spanish-American War through U.S. participation in 20th-century conflicts. Elias asserts that displays of aggression and combative, outwardly heterosexual competition appeared within the constructed concepts of masculinity in the consumer age which replaced earlier notions of producer-based manhood. Although academicians will appreciate Elias’s analysis of the origins of social ideas, general readers might relate more to the roles played by mid-century scandal sheets such as Confidential, Rave, and the National Enquirer. Rumors about the sexual orientations of J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, and Roy Cohn targeted their lack of conventional masculine identifiers, such as wives and children. Elias adeptly details the Lavender Scare of the mid-20th century, and the lasting impact of the use of fabrication and hyperbole.
VERDICT This finely crafted book, based on meticulous use of archival records, satisfies on many levels and sheds light on often overlooked history.
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