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The FBI & American democracy : a brief critical history /

Main Author: Theoharis, Athan G.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Lawrence : University Press of Kansas, 2004
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Review by Choice Review

In FBI histories coincidentally issued almost simultaneously, Theoharis (Marquette Univ.) and Powers (CUNY Graduate Center) complement each other, and together provide an excellent overview of the bureau's history. Theoharis, unquestionably the dean of FBI history, contributes an authoritative, if too brief, volume. Taking a rather impersonal, dry approach, Theoharis concludes that the FBI, whose history he summarizes as marred by "failure and abuse," will continue to "undermine both the spirit and foundation of our cherished democracy" unless Congress uncharacteristically establishes serious oversight to ensure an end to its long-established practices of straying "into the monitoring of political activities and personal conduct." Although without doubt Theoharis has read everything significant about the FBI, his book quite bizarrely lacks bibliography and footnotes, simply referring readers to a lengthy bibliography published five years ago and vaguely to Freedom of Information Act material as his "principal sources," thus seriously limiting the book's scholarly usefulness. If Theoharis's book is impersonal, short, unsourced, and left-liberal, Powers repeatedly injects his (confused but usually more conservative) views into a volume that is unnecessarily long but extremely readable and generally well footnoted. Although definitely worth reading, his book suffers from frequent irritating and pointless personal intrusions, especially since his documentation of repeated FBI foul-ups and misdeeds collides with repeated calls for the FBI to be "unleashed" in the post 9/11 world from political pressures that have allegedly led the agency to pussyfoot around to avoid offending civil liberties sensibilities. This inconsistency is somewhat illuminated in Powers' acknowledgments, which reveal that after 9/11, a book "begun in an effort to describe what the Bureau was doing right" turned into a "search for what had gone wrong," and ended with another course reversal, an admission not likely to inspire confidence that facts lead him to conclusions, rather than vice-versa. ^BSumming Up: Recommended, both books. All levels/libraries. R. J. Goldstein Oakland University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

The FBI has had a substantial impact on U.S. society from its inception in 1908 through the advent of the war on terror. Theoharis (history, Marquette Univ.; The FBI and American Democracy: A Brief Critical History) inquires into its myths and realities. He criticizes the bureau for frequent abuses of power and its failure to meet its stated law enforcement or intelligence goals-especially regarding Soviet espionage in the 1940s and 1950s and recent terrorist threats. Theoharis outlines the FBI's deception about its activities with other government agencies and demonstrates its use of extralegal and illegal means to conduct criminal investigations and damage reputations of agency critics. He shows how the FBI advanced its own political agenda, especially practices that promoted McCarthyism and secretly undermined dissident organizations in the 1960s and 1970s. This clear, thoughtful presentation is strongly recommended for both public libraries and academic institutions.-Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.