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

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.