ALIEN INK is a chilling book. For more than four hundred pages, author Nancy Robins reports on the contents of files kept by the FBI on dozens of prominent and not-so-prominent writers whose works influenced American thinking throughout the present century. With information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Robins is able to piece together the systematic campaign mounted by the Bureau to monitor the associations and habits of people Hoover considered to be too liberal, too left-leaning, too much in sympathy with the Communist movement. In more than a hundred vignettes, the author traces the compilation of data on figures such as Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Kay Boyle, Archibald MacLeish, Dorothy Parker, and Norman Mailer. She explores the web of informers Hoover used to collect tidbits about these and more than 240 others whom the Director considered a threat to the American way of life. With alarming frequency, the catalyst for Hoover’s ire was no more than a casual disparaging remark made about the Bureau or its Director. In numerous instances, if Robins is to be believed, a writer’s career was damaged or curtailed in some way because of the FBI’s efforts.
This is not a scholarly book. On more than one occasion, Robins abandons any pretense of objectivity in decrying the highhanded tactics of FBI agents. Further, she seems to delight in Hoover’s discomfort with charges that he was a homosexual. For Robins, Hoover is little more than an egomaniacal psychopath bent on preserving his own position of power and influence at all costs. Nevertheless, ALIEN INK provides significant insight into the efforts of the FBI against the Communist Party in the United States, and offers a sober reminder that speaking out against those in positions of power can be costly. The work suggests that not all agencies of the government are equally committed to preserving the First Amendment rights guaranteed under the Constitution.