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The Jazz Age is famous for scandal and corruption. But perhaps its greatest political fiasco—one that set the nation ablaze from coast-to-coast, reshaped the department of justice, delivered the rise of J. Edgar Hoover, and inspired the Oscar-winning “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”—has been lost in the annals of history. In Crooked, Nathan Masters restores this story of murders, con artist, secret lovers, spies, bootleggers, corrupt politicians to its incredible, page-turning glory.
Newly elected to the senate on a promise to root out corruption, Burton "Boxcar Burt" Wheeler sets his sights on Harry Daugherty, Warren G. Harding's attorney general and puppet-master behind the nascent FBI. Daugherty was famously corrupt, having long serve as Harding's political fixer, doing whatever it took to keep his boss in power, including taking kickbacks from bootleggers and bribes for drilling rights. And he had only recently been under an uncomfortable spotlight when his constant companion and trusted fixer, Jess Smith, was found dead of a gunshot wound in the apartment the two men shared, and the rot consuming the Harding administration was finally exposed to a shocked public. When the Senate authorizes Wheeler to conduct an official investigation, he promises the truth and delivers a public spectacle. He subpoenas a rogue’s gallery of witnesses—ex-cons, bootleggers, disgraced government officials—who can testify to the attorney general’s treachery, and he vows to solve the riddle of Jess Smith’s suspicious death. With the Montana senator hot on his trail, Daugherty turns to his greatest weapon, the Bureau of Investigation (soon to be called the FBI)—it’s the perfect moment for a young lawyer named J. Edgar Hoover waiting in the wings to seize power.
Fast-paced and as un-put-down-able as any Erik Larson or David Grann book, Nathan Masters delivers a thrilling historical narrative in Wheeler and Daugherty's cat-and-mouse game. Time has almost entirely forgotten this epic feud between two larger-than-life personalities, but it has never felt more relevant: nationwide scandal, domestic spying, politically motivated FBI investigations, and a corrupt attorney general hellbent on protecting his president, no matter how many laws he has to bend or break.
Nathan Masters writes blockbuster nonfiction stories about the past, resurrecting personalities that time forgot too soon. Based on original primary-source research, his work has appeared in many publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Magazine, the scholarly journal Public Historian, and the digital longform magazine Truly*Adventurous. “Pillars of Fire,” his true-life story about America’s first policewoman, who infiltrated a notorious cult to locate a missing person, is currently in development at Amazon Studios as a feature film starring Rachel Brosnahan. Since 2016, Nathan has hosted and produced Lost L.A., an Emmy Award-winning public television series from KCET, which explores how rare artifacts from Southern California’s archives can unlock hidden and often-surprising stories from the region’s past. Nathan works at the University of Southern California Libraries and lives in the San Jacinto Mountains with his wife, the author and screenwriter Kseniya Melnik, and their son.
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