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Amy Bloom, Writing Well 'Away' from the Ordinary

Fresh Air's book critic reviews Away, an extraordinary novel of immigration and epic adventure from Amy Bloom, the author of Come to Me and A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You.



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Other segments from the episode on September 10, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 10, 2007: Interview with Burton Hersh; Review of Amy Bloom's novel "Away"; Review of Aly and A.J.'s album "Insomniatic."


DATE September 10, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Burton Hersh, author of "Bobby and J. Edgar," on the
tortured relationship between Bobby Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.

My guest, Burton Hersh, has written a new book about the complex and tortured
relationship between long-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Robert
Kennedy who, as attorney general in the early '60s, was technically Hoover's
boss. The two men shared a visceral dislike for each other and had sharply
different agendas for law enforcement in America. Hersh writes of their
struggles over the mob, labor racketeering, the civil rights movement and the
wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. In the end, Hersh writes, Hoover got
the upper hand in the relationship because of his knowledge of Kennedy family

Burton Hersh is a writer and historian who has chronicled the Kennedy family
for over 35 years. He's the author of "The Old Boys," about the origins of
the CIA, and "The Shadow President," a biography of Edward Kennedy. His new
book is "Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off Between the Kennedys and
J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America."

Well, Burton Hersh, welcome to FRESH AIR. You know, you spend some time early
in this book talking about Joe Kennedy, the father of Jack and Bobby and Ted
Kennedy, and he is known to have had some connections with organized crime, as
apparently did J. Edgar Hoover. What kind of relationship did Joe Kennedy
and J. Edgar Hoover have with each other?

Mr. BURTON HERSH: Well, the fact is they were both rising stars in the
1930s. Joe Kennedy, who had already made his first major fortunes, first in
bootlegging and then in the movie business, now had aspirations to sort of
redeem the family name and be an important public servant under Franklin
Roosevelt, whom he helped boost into the presidency. And Hoover, who had been
under something of a cloud as a result of some of his earlier civil liberties
infractions was trying to redeem himself and build the FBI, whish was pretty
much his creature.

So the two of them were both prominent names, and Hoover and Kennedy became
friends of a sort. In fact, Hoover and Clyde Tolson, his inevitable sidekick,
went down to Palm Beach and spent time with Kennedy in his mansion down there,
and they traded favors from then on for the rest of Joe Kennedy, and I guess
Hoover's life.

DAVIES: Now in the 1950s John Kennedy was in the Senate, a rising star with
big ambitions, and his younger brother Bobby was a staff member. And when he
was on the Senate committee headed by Arkansas Senator John McClellan, he was
a key staff member investigating labor racketeering and organized crime and
was very zealous about it, as you and others have written. And when he dug
deep, he would, at times, come upon information that reflected poorly on his
father, perhaps even implicated him in criminal acts. Give us a sense, were
these a surprise to Bobby Kennedy? And how did he react?

Mr. HERSH: I think for the most part they were a surprise. Joe Kennedy kept
his business life away from his family. Somebody asked him, `What would you
do if your kids ever found out about some of the things that you're up to?' he
said, `I'd tell them to mind their own damn business.' And that sort of was
the attitude, that business was one thing and not the cleanest of
undertakings, and he wanted his children to grow up in another world, to be
politicians, to avoid getting their hands dirty. So there was a real
dichotomy here, a real division of purposes, and that reflected in all their

On the other hand, I think by the middle of the '50s at least Jack Kennedy was
beginning to pick up on some of the contacts and associates that his father
had. I mean, these guys were around. I mean, they showed up in the Palm
Beach house. They occasionally were to be scene in Hyannisport. You couldn't
miss it, to some extent.

On the other hand, Bobby--now this may be the direct result--Bobby, who, you
know, had a sort of choirboy side to him, it was an altar boy side, really,
took a true dislike to these mobsters and felt that, as he and the Rackets
Committee dug deeper and deeper, he began to conclude that much of the
country, through the unions and Hoffa and through people like that, the real
power in the country was shifting over to organized crime, and that his job as
sort of a crusader was to fight that, stop it and reverse the process. And
the truth is, he did. That's probably Bobby Kennedy's greatest

DAVIES: And you write that his dad, Joe Kennedy, didn't think that this
crusade to rid unions and big cities of organized crime's influence was a very
good idea for his sons. And I'm just curious, when Bobby did develop
information which might get close to his dad, did he back off?

Mr. HERSH: Well, at first I think he tried to sort of avert his eyes. There
was a big row at Christmas in the Kennedy household when Bobby announced that
he was going to form the Rackets Committee. He felt, I think, that Estes
Kefauver had done very well for himself and had actually managed to grab the
vice presidential nomination in 1956 because of his association with the fight
against organized crime. And Bobby saw that as an avenue for public
attention, for his brother and for himself. So when he indicated to his
father that he was going to work with Senator McClellan and put the Rackets
Committee together, the old man really exploded. He had a tremendous
tantrum--and Joe Kennedy could have them--and he said, `You're a damn fool.
You'll destroy yourself. You'll destroy your brother's career. It's a crazy
thing for you to do or even think about doing.' But Bobby, who was...

DAVIES: But, if I could interrupt...

Mr. HERSH: Sure.

DAVIES: Was Joe Kennedy worried about what it was going to reveal about his
own life, or did he just think it was politically not the right move?

Mr. HERSH: Well, his explanation was that it was politically crazy because,
you know, the mob and the major political bosses were all tied together. And
I think he was not happy about the prospect of Bobby digging deeper and deeper
and finally coming upon some indication of his own malfeasances. I think, for
example, there's a section in Bobby's book on the mob, his first book on the
mob, in which Bobby says that he found to his astonishment that one of the
properties that mobsters were renting in New York appeared to belong to his
family and so forth, to his father.

Barry Goldwater saw that, as Bobby dug deeper, he was getting more and more
clues that the father was not innocent of mob association and would later
claim that this kind of stuff drove Bobby crazy. But I think only once Bobby
became attorney general did he get the full picture and was he forced, in
effect, to back off from his efforts to indict major top mobsters.

DAVIES: Some of the unsavory things that Joseph Kennedy, the father, did to
amass wealth and power, it also helped them at times, including the 1960
election. What were some of the things that Joe Kennedy did, some of the
unsavory things that helped his son John Kennedy win the presidency?

Mr. HERSH: Well, I think you have to start with an understanding of a
presumption that both Joe Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover made, which is that
organized crime and big city politics were so entwined that you couldn't
separate one from the other. If you wanted to win the big city bosses or the
state bosses, especially over on the Democrat side, but to some extent, as in
California, on the Republican side, over to support you and get their foot
soldiers out there knocking on doors and get your man into power, you pretty
well had to propitiate them. And all the top Mafia people had long since
grown accustomed to making major donations to top political candidates, and
this was true in both parties. So what Joe Kennedy was up to was not unusual,
and even Franklin Roosevelt had contacts, direct and indirect, with people
who--no Eleanor Roosevelt liberal would particularly want to share office
space with, for example, Sidney Hillman, who kept the unions under control for
Roosevelt, at one point didn't hesitate to hire Louis Lepke, the head of
Murder, Incorporated, to maintain order in his unions.

So you had a situation where organized crime and big city bosses and big
business, to some extent, all shared certain interests. And people like Meyer
Lansky could be depended on to show up at both Democratic and Republican
conventions to make sure that--he thought of himself as a very successful big
businessman with a few extra wrinkles. So guys like Lansky would show up and
make sure their interests were looked after when the candidates were chosen.

DAVIES: Right...

Mr. HERSH: This is the whole point. That what other people may have thought
of as illegal, at a certain level of deal making, was generally considered not
just acceptable but mandatory.

DAVIES: Right and applying a present-day standard to some of this conduct may
miss some of the context, and yet I was really shocked at some of the thinks
you describe. Like, a firsthand meeting that Joe Kennedy had with, I guess,
some of Chicago's top mob bosses, was explicitly abut getting votes, right?

Mr. HERSH: Yeah, it was. You have to understand that Joe Kennedy, right
after the second world war, had bought the Merchandise Mart, largely with
borrowed money, and set up as a major landlord in Chicago. Well, if you
operate in Chicago that soon after the Al Capone era with Al Capone's heirs
pulling a lot of the leverage, you better have relations with these people
that are serviceable both ways, and Joe Kennedy did.

DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is writer Burton Hersh. He has a
new book "Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-off Between the Kennedys and
J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America."

Well, when Jack Kennedy was elected to the presidency, he made his brother
Bobby attorney general, which technically made him J. Edgar Hoover, the
director of the FBI's, boss. Bobby technically was Hoover's boss, and a
fascinating relationship developed here. Remind us first of Hoover's style in
running the FBI. He was a very idiosyncratic leader, wasn't it?

Mr. HERSH: Yeah. Hoover was an unashamed autocrat. I mean, he didn't
hesitate to run the FBI as a personal fiefdom. He favored people he liked.
He persecuted people he didn't. He went after everybody from Albert Einstein
to Charlie Chaplin and many other people whom he felt were un-American, and he
didn't care much about whether they were in violation of the law or whether
they weren't. He compiled the greatest set of dossiers that any government
official's ever put together, and he was never shy about using them to
blackmail people he didn't like. And in the case of the Kennedys, especially
the father and Jack Kennedy, there was plenty to fill those dossiers with.

DAVIES: And little things. He wouldn't let anybody in the bureau wear red
ties, is that right?

Mr. HERSH: He had a million eccentricities. I mean, he was terrified of
bugs. One time when he'd been driven to his hotel, the driver had turned left
and gotten into a minor automobile accident, and from then on he wouldn't let
his drivers turn left. So they would pick him up at the airport and spend
half the day getting to the hotel, taking only right turns. He was a very
phobic personality, and yet a very powerful and effective one.

DAVIES: And what about his relationship with Clyde Tolson, his life-long
companion? What was that all about?

Mr. HERSH: Well, you know, who was in the room exactly? But every
indication would suggest that Tolson and Hoover had a long-standing homosexual
relationship. And even top FBI figures whom I've spoken to have been willing
to go on the record and tell me that it was very plain that the two were
living in many ways as if they were a married couple. They were deeply
interdependent and, I think, whatever the stories out there about Hoover in a
dress or Hoover doing this and that, I think that relationship can be presumed
to have been a sort of solid homosexual partnership.

DAVIES: And he was Hoover's number two guy at the FBI, as well?

Mr. HERSH: He was. He was a very bright guy. Very obsessive. Very
uptight. Very shrewd. Capable of looking at a document, glancing over it,
finding the one clause which could get the Bureau into trouble and getting
that stricken out. He was the guy that Hoover used to fire the agents who
weren't working out. He was the axe man. And yet he was very, in his own
way, he was a moderating influence. He was the one guy that could sit down
with Hoover--they had at least one meal together every day--and tell him where
he was going too far or where things were getting out of hand. So he was a
governor, in effect, over Hoover over the many years that he ran the bureau.

DAVIES: My guest is author Burton Hersh.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: If you're just joining me, my guest is writer Burton Hersh. He has a
new book, "Bobby and Edgar: The Historic Face-off Between the Kennedys and J.
Edgar Hoover That Transformed America."

So when the Kennedy administration is set up, we have this brash, young
anti-mob crusader, Bobby Kennedy, now technically Hoover's boss, as attorney
general, and the relationship foundered on many very substantive issues, like
organized crime and civil rights. But there were also just some little things
that Hoover really didn't like about Bobby Kennedy, right?

Mr. HERSH: Well, Bobby, you know, Bobby was young and he was a little bit
casual about the way he did everything. For example, he had a giant
Newfoundland dog named Brumis, and Bobby liked to bring Brumis to work, and
Brumis was about as stupid and ill-disciplined an animal as ever found its way
into a public building. So the first thing Brumis would do when he got there
was sort of mark his territory all around Bobby Kennedy's huge reception room.
Then he'd go over and, at one point, to Hoover's fury, he relieved himself
right in front of Hoover's door, which angered Hoover so much that he got
together his executive committee and tried to figure a pretext to take Bobby
Kennedy to court and sue him for desecrating federal property. So there was a
fair amount of immediate disagreement as to what service in the federal
government was all about.

Hoover considered Bobby a kind of crazy hippie, with phobias that would drive
them all crazy. Bobby, in turn, considered Hoover a relic, you know, an
antique preoccupied with hunting down the handful of sincere communists that
still existed in the country and using most of the resources of the FBI to do
it. So they had a fundamental disagreement about what was happening in the
country and what should be done about it.

On the other hand, Bobby had no scruples about using the FBI for his own
purposes, sometimes purposes that Hoover didn't agree with. And that's where
the greatest rub came. Hoover treated the FBI as if it were his own personal
organization. Bobby felt that the FBI should be subject to him and to do what
he chose to have done and treated him, Hoover would later complain, as if he
were a desk sergeant, and the friction between them all but set the building

DAVIES: And he--let me get this right--he established a buzzer on his desk
that would immediately allow him to jolt Hoover to attention?

Mr. HERSH: Yeah, and Hoover never--that had never happened before. There
had been--if anybody wanted Hoover, any attorney general, he would discreetly
call him, `This is Gandy, Hoover's secretary,' and Hoover would be informed
and then Hoover would see if he could fit the attorney general into his
schedule. Now we had a situation where Bobby would press the button, Hoover
would be jolted off and out of an afternoon's nap, and come running in
red-faced and tried to explain whatever it was Bobby had in mind. And that
wasn't going to work long.

DAVIES: In the 1950s, I mean, Bobby Kennedy was going hard after organized
crime and labor racketeering, and one of his prime targets then and years
after was the teamsters' leader Jimmy Hoffa. J. Edgar Hoover, of course, was
director of the FBI throughout all of this. How did he react to Kennedy's
crusade against the mob, corrupt labor leaders and Hoffa?

Mr. HERSH: Well, wherever possible, Hoover dragged his feet. He didn't want
to see the FBI involved in any of this stuff if he could possibly help it.
Furthermore, he had very, very good friends who were themselves closely
associated with some of these same people. I mean, he was part of a small
circle of people in Washington who were, in effect, doing PR for people like
his pals the Murchisons, at whose resort out in California Hoover and Tolson
spent most of the summer. He was operating his wild-catting ventures on money
that he was borrowing from the teamsters' pension fund and so forth. Carlos
Marcello, the mob boss in New Orleans, was dependent on teamster money.

And furthermore, all these people--many of whom, like Lansky, had lost
fortunes in Havana when Castro came in--were depending on teamster loans to
build Las Vegas, which was going to be their paradise, the place where they
could operate legally and found their new fortunes. So once Bobby showed up
and began his very energetic efforts to close all this down, they were
directly threatened, and it became obvious to Carlos Marcello and others, that
if they wanted to get Bobby out of the picture, they had to get Jack Kennedy
out of the picture, and you can write the next chapter for yourself.

DAVIES: Bobby Kennedy went after organized labor as he had when he had been a
US Senate staffer. I mean, in particular, Jimmy Hoffa, and this point I think
bore the character of a personal vendetta, didn't it?

Mr. HERSH: It did, yeah. Remember that the Kennedys had cultivated the AFLC
of IO and Walter Reuther and nothing that any of the CIO operatives did, some
of whom were themselves not much better than Hoffa's people, ever came under
attack while Jack was campaigning for the presidency. Now Bobby was forced to
try to deal with some of that as well as problems in the teamster union.
Hoffa, who certainly was all mobbed up, nevertheless had done a great deal for
the nation's truck drivers. He'd really given them a living wage. He
provided a pension for them. He was much loved within the union, and the
teamsters was the biggest American union and by far the richest. I mean, they
had upwards of $1 billion in their treasury, which Hoffa handed out to people
who he felt would do him or the teamsters some good. So he was a very
powerful antagonist for Bobby.

DAVIES: Tell us about the physical confrontation between Jimmy Hoffa and
Bobby Kennedy.

Mr. HERSH: Well, you know, they really had a thing going. I mean, when
Bobby was attempting to indict Hoffa, Hoffa and his lawyers showed up at the
Justice Department and they were to meet Bobby in the basement and look over
some records, and Bobby was a few minutes late. He came in with a big
horrible Newfoundland, Brumis, and Hoffa was furious at the fact that Bobby
had kept him waiting, and he attacked Bobby. Put his fingers around Bobby's
throat and was in the process of choking him to death when all the lawyers
present were able to pull Hoffa off of the attorney general.

The question was, what was Bobby going to do about that? He decided that he
would do himself more harm than good by attempting to bring a prosecution on
those grounds. But Hoffa was a very tempestuous fellow. He was forever
throwing his aids around the room or expressing himself in violent means.
Kennedy was not going to let a bully like that intimidate him, and on that
basis American history was made.

DAVIES: Historian and author Burton Hersh. His new book is called "Bobby and
J. Edgar." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm Dave Davies,
and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross.
We're speaking with Burton Hersh, who's written a new book about the tortured
relationship between long-time FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Robert
Kennedy, who was attorney general in the early '60s.

Now, when Bobby went after organized crime figures, and we mentioned before,
when he was a Senate staffer he would occasionally come upon information that
was damaging about his father Joe Kennedy and his earlier associations with
the mob. As attorney general, as he got to pursuing actual prosecutions of
people, you know, in a way, you're playing for keeps now, and when that
information came up that might have associated his father with criminals, how
did Bobby react? Did he play it straight? Did he back off to protect his

Mr. HERSH: Well, where he could. Where there was a way of sort of pulling
the blanket over things, he tended to allow his own charged up Justice
Department to go after at least secondary criminals. But he found himself in
a bad spot when Hoover decided that he would let the FBI collect evidence
against Sam Giancana, who was Al Capone's heir in Chicago and had been a
tremendous friend to the Kennedys and had really probably as much as anybody
helped get Jack into the White House. Hoover decided to allow the FBI
prosecutors to pull Giancana in and attempt to put him in the penitentiary.
Giancana let it be known that if that happened, he was going to make public a
lot of what had been private about the Kennedy family, about Joe in
particular, and Bobby was forced to back off. He was forced to use his
influence to quash the investigation. So there were limits to the extent to
which Bobby's crime-busting could be pursued in view of the baggage that the
family was carrying.

DAVIES: You write that there was a moment where Bobby walked into--was it
Hoover's office?--and said, `You can't arrest Giancana. He knows too much"?

Mr. HERSH: That's right. And he did know too much. I mean, Giancana was a
very close friend of Frank Sinatra, and Sinatra was a very close friend of the
Kennedy family. They traded favors for a long time. So by the time you began
to unearth the details about Giancana's activities, you were now talking about
major California supporters for the Kennedys, so you had a situation where,
the more they dug, the more they were going to find out. Sinatra was the
person that introduced Judith Exner Campbell to Jack Kennedy at a time when
she was also conducting a flirtation with Sam Giancana, the biggest mobster in
the country. So none of this was very savory stuff, and Bobby was smart
enough to know that he'd better not put Giancana on the stand or he might not
like what he heard.

DAVIES: You know, one thing we have to talk a little bit about is this other
huge issue that occupied the Kennedy administration and Bobby Kennedy and J.
Edgar Hoover, which was the growth of the civil rights movement in the South
and the growing influence of Martin Luther King. It's clear Hoover regarded
King as, you know, a moral hypocrite and a dangerously subversive force in
America. How did the Kennedys regard King?

Mr. HERSH: Well, you know, at first, their opinion wasn't that far from
Hoover's. You must remember that, you know, if Bobby was preoccupied with the
mob, Jack Kennedy was preoccupied with nuclear annihilation. He felt that his
number one job as president was to keep the superpowers from destroying each
other, and we came very close at the time of the Bay of Pigs, and only very
good judgment and sharp instincts on the part of both Kennedy brothers
probably saved both societies at that point.

So when the president was in Vienna attempting to negotiate us off the
precipice and Martin Luther King was tearing up the cities of the South, it
was very counterproductive in the opinion of the Kennedy brothers. They felt
that he was causing a lot of trouble. Furthermore, he was creating situations
which they would then be forced to intervene in and, in the course of doing
so, would cause the Democratic Party in the South and the Kennedys to have
ever-worse prospects in 1964 which, as politicians, they were very aware of.
So they felt that King was a troublemaker who was working a different agenda
from than anything that made sense to then. And only little by little, as
events unfolded, did both brothers begin to understand the urgency of changing
the treatment of blacks, especially in the South in the United States.

DAVIES: Now, it's widely known that the FBI undertook a very aggressive
surveillance of Martin Luther King which, you know, unearthed a lot of private
details. What role, if any, did Attorney General Robert Kennedy have in
authorizing that surveillance?

Mr. HERSH: You had a rather complicated situation that developed in the last
summer of Jack Kennedy's life, and one of the people who came to the
president's attention at that point was an East German woman named Ellen
Rometsch, a very attractive woman who had actually worked for Walter Ulbricht
at one point and was, in all probability, maintaining some kind of connection
to the Stasi, the East German Secret Service. Jack Kennedy got involved with
her, and Bobby Kennedy became aware of this fact, and he also became aware of
the fact that guys like John Williams, who regarded themselves as the
conscience of the country and of the Senate, were about to attempt hearings
which would bring all this to light. The president was involved with a woman
who might very well be an East German spy. Well, a similar situation had
brought down the government in England a few months before, and everybody
became increasingly apprehensive.

So Bobby was then forced to go to Hoover, who had wonderful connections in the
Congress and say, `Will you go to these right-wing Republican senators and
call these hearings off?' And Hoover in effect said, `I'll do it, but in
return I want you to give me total license to bug and tap Martin Luther King.'

DAVIES: Now this is fascinating. If I can just interrupt--this is just
fascinating. Because Hoover now isn't just a law enforcement guy. He has
political connections. He can pull levers in the Senate. So you have the
attorney general turning to the FBI director to do political lobbying on
Capitol Hill to call off an investigation, right?

Mr. HERSH: Exactly. And Hoover's influence in the Congress at that point
was so enormous, partly because he had these dossiers on all the senior
figures in the Congress

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. HERSH: Especially the people like Rooney, who provided the money for the
Bureau every year. I mean, he did favors for them. In the case of the House
committee, he had FBI accountants do the books for these guys, you know, so
that he would then be sure the FBI would get as much money as they wanted. I
mean, the extent of Hoover's penetration of the government not only in the
executive branch but in the legislative branch was unbelievable. And finally
Bobby was forced to crawl in and beg Hoover to give him the chance to
exonerate his brother because a story like that, which had just destroyed the
McMillan government, could very well destroy the Kennedy government.

DAVIES: That was in Britain, right? It was a sex scandal in Britain, right?

Mr. HERSH: Yeah, that was--yeah, yeah. That's right. That was in Britain.
And a very similar scandal, you know, the Christine Keeler scandal, if you
remember that. So anyhow Hoover prevailed. And there's some wonderful
exchanges, you know, inter-office memos about this whole thing and FBI
records, and he then took his pound of flesh. He not only wanted to go after
Martin Luther King, he wanted the president to invite him over for lunch more.
He wanted to have more reflected glory coming out of the Kennedy
administration than he'd seen so far, and he got it. He got whatever he

What really happened subsequently, though, interestingly enough, is that the
Kennedys, both Bob and Jack, became convinced of the total unfairness of
treatments of blacks in the United States and got behind a lot of civil rights
legislation, which was subsequently passed by Lyndon Johnson, who was also, in
many ways, a better civil rights man than the Kennedys. And Johnson, in turn,
using legislation and techniques formed during Bobby Kennedy's Justice
Department days, went after organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, which was the
enforcement arm of Southern segregation, and the FBI infiltrated and virtually
crushed the Klan. So many of the things that Hoover had all his life fought
against, he now found himself and the Bureau forced to undertake, to expedite.

DAVIES: In the very last sentence of your book, you say that Hoover and
Kennedy had remade America. In what ways did they change the country?

Mr. HERSH: Well, despite these dark shadows that his father's career began
to cast over Bob Kennedy's efforts while he was in the Justice Department, he
and the crack lawyers that he assembled there put together legislation which
amounted to the beginning of the end of the mob. For one thing, soon after
Bob Kennedy became attorney general, he railroaded through Congress
legislation--dead of night-type legislation--which put the FBI into the
business of controlling the movement of betting information and betting
devices over state lines. Now, by then, gambling was the central business of
the senior Mafia. So suddenly and totally against his will, J. Edgar Hoover
now found himself in the business of investigating and ultimately attempting
to get indictments against major mobsters. He didn't like it, but before he
realized what had happened, those laws had come onto the books through Bob
Kennedy's persistent lobbying.

Within people like Robert Blakey, within Kennedy's Justice Department, began
to do the micromachining that produced the RICO Act that produced all the
different techniques, the ability of mobsters willing to testify against the
mob to change their identity and the whole complex of techniques which the FBI
predominantly, but other federal organizations would use to put the mob down.
Up until then it had really been pretty much up to Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms and the predecessor organizations--the DEA, and particularly the
Internal Revenue Service, to try to catch these guys off base and throw them
in jail, the way they did with Al Capone, for example. Now you had
instruments, legal instruments, which the FBI could use to begin to track down
and deal with the senior figures of the Cosa Nostra. And well after Bob
Kennedy was out of the picture, these laws were put into play, and the mob
began to recede as a constant threat to American life.

DAVIES: Well, Burton Hersh, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HERSH: Thank you.

DAVIES: Burton Hersh. His new book is "Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic
Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Maureen Corrigan on Amy Bloom's new novel, "Away"

Amy Bloom's books have been nominated for the National Book Award and the
National Book Critics' Circle Award. Her latest novel, "Away," began
attracting enthusiastic reviews even before it was published. Our book critic
Maureen Corrigan weighs in.


There are a lot of surface similarities to Toni Morrison's masterpiece
"Beloved" in Amy Bloom's new novel, "Away." Start with that echoing one-word
title. Then consider the fact that both novels are grounded in real-life
stories of heroic female endurance. Morrison's main character, Sethe, was
modeled on the figure of fugitive slave Margaret Garner. In 1856, as slave
catchers were closing in, Garner murdered her own daughter, feeling that the
child was better off dead than enslaved.

Bloom's "Away" was inspired by the story of a young Russian immigrant woman
named Lillian Alling who, in 1927, walked from New York City to Alaska, where
she was last reported bartering with Eskimos for passage home to Siberia. In
"Away," Bloom takes the novelist's liberty of filling in the mysterious gaps
in Alling's tale. She imagines that, like the harrowing act committed by
Margaret Garner and her fictional counterpart, Sethe, Lillian's epic trek was
motivated by an uprush of maternal instincts.

Bloom's Lillian is the only survivor of a pogrom that wiped out her family in
Russia. With little more than the clothes on her back, she journeys to the
Lower East Side of New York, where she finds work by day as a seamstress and
by night as the mistress of a Yiddish theater owner. Then a cousin from the
old country turns up with the news that Lillian's baby daughter Sophie
survived the pogrom and is living with former neighbors in Siberia. That's
when Lillian starts walking westward.

Literary fiction is light on female on-the-road novels, so it's initially
intriguing to see how Bloom handles the situation of a young woman shifting
for herself in the wide-open spaces of 1920s America. Lillian smuggles
herself onto trains, rides mules through Alaska and staggers on blistered feet
to try to reach the Bering Strait.

Bloom's descriptions are sometimes affecting, especially at the beginning of
the novel, where she focuses on Lillian's solitude as an immigrant.
Describing Lillian's daily routine, Bloom's narrator says, "She dreams of the
murder of her family. She wakes to the sound of her own screaming. She eats
bread and cabbage with strangers in a small, dirty room. She puts in and
takes out stitches to make cheap hats, puts together blue petals and takes
apart flawed silk flowers. And she does it all badly. She learns the
language of a country that terrifies her so that she can dig deeper into it
and make a safe hole for herself because she has no other home."

Like Sethe, Lillian eventually will risk everything and withstand
anything--prostitution, jail, even trapping and eating porcupines in the wild
Yukon--to be reunited with the cherished daughter she thought was dead.

It was somewhere around the middle of this novel, when Lillian was once again
rescued by the kindness of strangers--this one a diminutive African-American
prostitute named Gumdrop--that I realized that what "Away" really shared with
"Beloved" were its flaws rather than its glories. Blame the contrarian critic
Stanley Crouch for unforgettably enumerating those flaws. In an essay on
"Beloved" in his 1990 collection called "Notes of a Hanging Judge," Crouch
ridiculed what he saw as "Beloved"'s soap opera storyline, its mumbo jumbo
mysticism, and its simplistic worldview in which all African-American women
are heroines of self-sacrifice and all African-American men are either weak at
best or, at worst, no-good varmints like their Caucasian counterparts. I
sometimes re-read Crouch's essay because it's a great example of how a critic
can be so smart about all that's creaky in a novel and yet miss the fact that
the novel in question transcends those flaws through the animating
intelligence and imaginative force of a writer's vision.

Bloom's tepid Yiddish remake of Morrison's masterpiece doesn't pull off this
magic trick. Her language, for one thing, would have to be much more
inventive to distract us readers from a melodramatic plot and a
multi-culti-chorusline of cliched characters. That black hooker Gumdrop
unfortunately isn't the novel's only tough dame with a heart of gold. As she
wends her way to Siberia, Lillian is helped by Chinky Chang, a Chinese grifter
and a white card shark named Lorena, with whom Lillian shares tears.
Together, we're told, the women cry over their daughters and over kindness and
over the things love makes you do. It's too much schmaltz like this that
ultimately makes me say `oy vey' about "Away."

DAVIES: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Away" by Amy Bloom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Ken Tucker reviews Aly and AJ's album "Insomniatic"

Aly and AJ Michalka are two sisters who became famous among young teens and
pre-teens for their appearances on TV shows on The Disney Channel. They also
star in the MTV production "My Super Sweet 16: The Movie," which premiered in
July. And they sing and write music. Rock critic Ken Tucker says their new
album "Insomniatic" is a good example of why teeny bopper pop shouldn't be
disdained by listeners of any age.

(Soundbite of "Closure")

ALY AND AJ: (Singing) Yesterday I spotted you
Hanging out with someone new
Come on, dude, I can't believe who
Did it hurt?
Oh yes it hurt
But not as much as I thought it would
Guess it's time for me to move on
I'm getting closer
Closer to closure
Closer to closure
Every day's closer
Closer to closure
Closer to closure

(End of soundbite)

KEN TUCKER reporting:

Aly and AJ, as this sister act is known, specialize in girl power pop
featuring melodies both light and dark, with rhythms that have an elastic
snap. The song that led off this review, called "Closure," begins like 1,000
other broken-heart tunes, with the words "Yesterday I saw you with someone
new" then it seizes a phrase from therapy jargon to provide the musical and
emotional release: "I'm getting closer to closure." The sisters' stalwart
assertion is clever and fun.

(Soundbite of "Like, Whoa")

ALY and AJ: (Singing) Life is good; I can't complain
I mean I could, but no one's listening
Your image overwhelms my brain
And it feels good, good, good
Now I'm rolling my window down
I love the wind, but I hate the sound
You're like a tattoo that I can't remove
And it feels good, it feels good, it feels good

Like a roller coaster ride
Holding on, my knuckles white
Whoa, whoa
Can't believe I'm like
Whoa, whoa
Up and down and side to side
Every inch of me is like
Whoa, whoa
Got me feeling like...

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: One thing I like about Aly and AJ is their self-consciousness. The
song I just played, called "Like, Whoa," is a throwback to the sort of pop
Michael Jackson was making with producer Quincy Jones in the '80s. Aly and AJ
recall a more innocent time before they were born.

Another song here is called "Potential Break-Up Song." Its chorus: "This is
the potential break-up song, our album just needs one.' The first time I heard
them sing that line I laughed out loud, and I still chuckle over the nonstop
devilishness of this song, "Division," another break-up tune, a ballad in
which Aly and AJ, their voices entwined, inseparable, tell a loser that he,
quotes, "gets his degree in your separation from me."

(Soundbite of "Division")

ALY and AJ: (Singing) You chose to surrender the best thing that's happened
to you
What were you missing
Were you just tripping?
Running away from your fear was the best you could do
You made this decision
You chose our division

And I have no regrets
I wish you the very best
In all that you do
Now you are free
You have earned your degree
Yeah, you have graduated
This is your last separation from me
There'll be no more trying again
No more coming back
No more forgiving you
No more thinking that somehow the sum will be different
By using division

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: For devotees of authenticity out there who hear teen pop as
manufactured material for performing puppets, I'll just shrug and point out
that Aly and AJ wrote or co-wrote every song on this album. Working with the
production team of Antonina Armato and Tim James, the girls take a distinctive
vocal approach. Most of the time they decline to harmonize but sing as one,
as though their voices were spliced together by more than DNA and tell their
stories in the first person singular. The result is terrifically propulsive,
headlong music like "If I Could Have You Back."

(Soundbite of "If I Could Have You Back")

ALY and AJ: (Singing) On the subject of being gone forever
I still can't believe it
I can't see it
I should just stop counting days
On the subject of the future
Wouldn't it be nice to leave it open-ended
And pretend it could go either way

If I could have you back again
Think about it, once or twice, I guess
If I could have you back
I'd reconsider, maybe I'd say yes
On the other hand it would be
Better to have a life
Without the constant indecision over
If I could have you back
If I could have you back

(End of soundbite)

TUCKER: Listen past the soaring chorus, the jittery keyboards, and the
drum...(unintelligible). The answer to the question posed in the title, and I
quote again, "It would be better to have a life without the constant
indecision over if I could have you back."

I'm not usually one to give a fig whether pop music is delivering a positive
or uplifting message. But in the midst of Aly and AJ's swirling pleasure,
they're not-so-nascent feminism seems as logical and inevitable as their
exhilarating music.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Insomniatic," by Aly and AJ.

You can download podcasts of FRESH AIR at


DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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