The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist


From the moment of Albert Einstein's arrival in the United States in l933, the year of the Nazis' ascent to power in Germany, until his death in l955, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, assisted by several other federal agencies, began feverishly collecting "derogatory information" in an effort to undermine the renowned physicist's influence and destroy his reputation. Using material newly obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Fred Jerome tells the story in depth of that anti-Einstein campaign, why and how the ...

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The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist

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From the moment of Albert Einstein's arrival in the United States in l933, the year of the Nazis' ascent to power in Germany, until his death in l955, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, assisted by several other federal agencies, began feverishly collecting "derogatory information" in an effort to undermine the renowned physicist's influence and destroy his reputation. Using material newly obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Fred Jerome tells the story in depth of that anti-Einstein campaign, why and how the campaign originated, and provides the first detailed picture of Einstein's little-known political activism. The Einstein File not only reveals a little-known aspect of Einstein's considerable social and humanitarian concerns, but underscores the dangers that can arise to the American republic and the rule of law in times of obsession with national security.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A highly readable book—-investigative journalism that qualifies as academic history. It is also scary."

—-Harper's Magazine

"The Einstein File is a frightening look at a dark past, hopefully gone forever. It also reestablishes Einstein as a committed social activist, antiracist, antiwar critic of capitalism, whose daring extended beyond mathematics."

—-Julian Bond, NAACP Chairman

"Meticulously researched and beautifully written, The Einstein File details a bleak chapter in this nation's history, when a rogue elephant FBI rode roughshod over civil liberties, including the rights and privacy of one of the world's great scientists. As the "war on terrorism" begins to resemble the "war on communism," Fred Jerome's highly informative book sounds a profoundly cautionary note."

—-Gerald Horne, author of Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois

"A well-written, provocative book that could—-and should—-alter the ways Hoover and Einstein are viewed."

—-Denver Post

"Vivid and engrossing.... Everybody interested in American history should read it."

—-Frederic Golden, former science editor of Time

Publishers Weekly
Not only did J. Edgar Hoover keep a well-guarded (and sometimes comically erroneous) secret file on Albert Einstein, reveals Jerome, a journalist and consultant to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communications, he actively sought to have the physicist deported. Though Einstein was far too popular to be brought down by Hoover's normal smear tactics (even when covertly laundered through congressional committees), his file was filled with 1,800 pages of raw materials. But the lists of organizations he supported (antifascist, pacifist and antiracist) and "unsavory" people he knew, such as Paul Robeson, lacked bite, since Einstein (unlike his biographers) happily publicized these associations. Accusations of subversive activity ranged from the surreal (mind control and death rays) to carelessly recycled Nazi propaganda. Hoover's only hope lay in exposing Einstein as a Soviet spy, a task he fruitlessly pursued from 1950 to 1955 (when Einstein died). Einstein revealed as anything but politically na ve fought back against this chilling rerun of his experience in Germany 20 years earlier by calling for civil disobedience in resisting McCarthy and the House un-American Activities Committee, the most radical statement by any major figure at the time. Jerome suggests that popular history has been twisted by this encounter. If Hoover utterly failed to limit Einstein's political influence in his lifetime, Jerome argues, he helped depoliticize Einstein's image, reducing his impact on future generations, a process this book should help reverse. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (May) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
It is not surprising that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI spied on Albert Einstein from 1933 to his death in 1955. As this well-done study makes clear, the famous scientist was also a social and political activist with strong pacifist and Socialist leanings. Einstein publicly supported the civil rights and anti-lynching movements and was a friend of leading African Americans. Unafraid, he was willing to denounce Joseph McCarthy and encouraged others to refuse to testify before him. These activities, plus his role in the development of nuclear weapons, led Hoover to investigate Einstein in search of "derogatory information," hoping to discredit and eventually deport him. While Hoover wanted to discover that Einstein was a Communist, his agents also collected crazy stories such as that one of Einstein's children was held hostage by the Soviets. Journalist Jerome uses Einstein's 2000-page FBI file plus interviews with people familiar with the case to tell this story. Perhaps the most useful aspect of this excellent book is that it reminds readers of the less-celebrated aspect of Einstein's character: he was ready and willing to participate in the political arena. For all libraries. Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ., Parkersburg Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
In addition to revealing yet more of the now too common injustices by unpoliced police agencies, Jerome (communications, Syracuse U.) revives the political dimension of the famous scientist that is routinely purged from the official portrayal of him: his intense commitment to social justice, his anti-racism, and his response to McCarthyism. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Technology Review columnist Jerome turns a brief newspaper reference he saw by chance into a fascinating account of the world-famous scientist's harassment by the FBI. Dozens of previous books have documented Hoover's surveillance of public figures, especially those he considered disloyal to his nation. But Albert Einstein, the genius physicist? Researching a project on the most prominent science stories of the 20th century, Jerome tracked references to Einstein published after his death in 1955. On page 17 of the New York Times business section for Sept. 9, 1983, he came across the headline "FBI Filed Reports on Einstein as a Spy and Kidnap Plotter." Interested and puzzled, he used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the FBI's file on Einstein. What he found in those documents was the story not of Einstein the scientist, but of Einstein the crusader for civil rights on behalf of blacks, victims of anti-Communist witch-hunts, and other persecuted individuals. Although this is decidedly not a full biography of Einstein (the author counts at least 300 of those already), the monograph provides considerable enlightenment about aspects of his life apart from what the FBI recorded. The Bureau's files, not so incidentally, are filled with rumor and factual inaccuracies galore; the supposedly crackerjack law-enforcement agency comes across here as a den of law-breaking buffoons. Jerome suggests that Hoover and his agents cared less about truthfulness than about silencing celebrities who had left-wing ideas and intimidating the remaining population. Einstein emerges as a hero, refusing to let the federal government's underhanded tactics discourage his support of unpopular causes. Awell-written, provocative account that could alter our views of both Hoover and Einstein
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312316099
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/17/2003
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 986,143
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Fred Jerome is senior consultant to the Gene Media Forum, Newhouse School of Communications, Syracuse University. His articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in many publications including Newsweek and the New York Times. As a reporter in the South during the early 1960s, he covered the exploding Civil Rights movement, and has taught journalism at Columbia and New York University. He is currently teaching a course at The New School titled "Scientists and Rebels." He invented the Media Resource Service in 1980, a widely acclaimed telephone referral service putting thousands of journalists in touch with scientists.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
Introduction xix
Part I Discovering America
1. "What's This, an Inquisition?" 3
2. Flashback 14
3. Refugee 24
4. Banned from the Bomb 36
Part II Postwar Fallout
5. Emergency Committee 55
6. American Crusade to End Lynching 70
7. The Einstein Watch 86
8. Right Time 94
Part III Guilt by Associations
9. The List 121
10. Du Bois and Robeson 127
11. How Red? 139
Part IV Operation "Get Einstein"
12. "Eleanor Could Have Triggered It ..." 155
13. Spy Hunt 1: Fuchs 163
14. Far Out 186
15. Spy Hunt 2: Operation Cable-Drop 193
16. "Undesirable Alien" 218
Part V Denouement
17. Turning Tides 233
18. The Unraveling 256
19. Einstein the Spy? 266
Conclusion 276
Postscript 283
Appendix 285
Notes 287
Sources 331
Acknowledgments 345
Index 349
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