What a brilliant idea: a triple biography of J. Edgar Hoover, Joe McCarthy, and Roy Cohn, all linked by their desire to divert questions about their own sexuality by projecting a tough-guy masculinity that destroyed careers and damaged democracy.
Elias brings fresh detail to how the trio worked together in pursuit of common enemies, and he persuasively argues that McCarthy’s death from alcoholism, at age 47 in 1957, failed to slow the Communist witch hunt he had done so much to foster. He also explores why the cross-dressing rumors about Hoover remain so much a part of his legacy (Elias skillfully skewers the more outlandish tales of Hoover being dressed “like an old flapper” at the Plaza and having the Bible read to him by a young man while another, wearing rubber gloves … well, let’s stop there) and deftly illustrates how the playbook these three men developed came to be used so devilishly by Cohn’s onetime client—the 45th president of the United States. Gossip Men manages the neat trick of portraying three monsters in ways that induce as much pity as fury.
There’s an old joke that the secret to a long and happy life is good health and a bad memory, but anyone who habitually forgets where the car keys are is more apt to be frustrated than content. Dr. Small, who is the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Columbia University, wants us to remember this: a bit of forgetting is healthy, especially when it comes to emotional trauma. A poor memory can allow us to be more creative in making decisions and solving problems as well as freeing us up to be more creative. Serious memory loss is another matter, of course, but Small is optimistic that clinical trials now underway may lead to drugs able to manipulate the proteins that destroy minds and instead allow the natural progression of forgetting that comes with age.
The author may not be the most famous member of the Sedgwick clan—that distinction belongs to his sister the actress Kyra Sedgwick—but he does have a story that beats anything she has starred in. Born into wealth and with an ancestry that includes a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rob snorted only the best coke as a teenager, but when his budding acting career stalled, he began selling weed, lots of weed, from his grandparents’ Upper West Side apartment. Does his new career end badly? Yes, but the way in which it does and how he copes is told with such picaresque flair that only after reading this book does one realize how much pain he has endured.