The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 22, Number 24, June 16, 2019, Article 4


Scott Miller writes:

I just read a new book, Freedom's Detective: The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America's First War on Terror by Charles Lane. The book is about Hiram Whitley, onetime chief of the Secret Service. In addition to his work against the KKK, there are sections about anti-counterfeiting endeavors.

Thanks - we hadn't discussed this book before. It just came out in April. Here's an excerpt from a review I found from the Washington Post. -Editor

Freedom's Detectice book cover "Freedom's Detective" by Charles Lane revolves around the fascinating figure of Whitley, whom President Ulysses Grant soon appointed to head the Secret Service, a federal agency created in 1865 to squelch counterfeit currency. Under Whitley, the agency also infiltrated and impaired the violent, politically motivated Klan. His story sharpens a paradox of the Reconstruction era. Whitley flouted ethics, curried partisan favor and violated civil liberties. At the same time, he promoted a more genuine American democracy.

A charismatic man with a goatee and intense blue eyes, Whitley reveled in skulduggery. As Secret Service chief, he employed small-time crooks to topple counterfeiting rings, reasoning that only underworld types could permeate these cabals. His style bore results: In 1871, he arrested Joshua Miner, the kingpin of a massive counterfeiting operation in New York City. Miner was also an esteemed Manhattan businessman with connections to Tammany Hall, the political machine of the Democratic Party.

In 1870 Whitley's outfit came under the new Department of Justice, and Attorney General Amos Akerman secured Grant's approval for a Secret Service team to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.

"In all of American history," writes Lane, "there had never been a federal undercover operation to investigate civilians for alleged criminal violations of the constitutional rights of fellow citizens, much less whites' violations of African American rights." Whitley would serve as "spymaster, organizer, and supervisor of what amounted to a domestic anti-terrorism unit within the Secret Service."

Bolstered by deep research into government documents and press accounts, "Freedom's Detective" paints an illuminating portrait of Whitley, an intriguing representative of Reconstruction's feats and fiascos. It does not, however, always cohere as a work of narrative history. Lane jumps back and forth in time while his protagonist is battling counterfeiters and Klansmen, and it can be difficult to keep Whitley's life in order.

To read the complete article, see:
The Secret Service chief who embodied the best and worst of Reconstruction (

Here's another review from the Wall Street Journal. -Editor

To read the complete article, see:
‘Freedom's Detective' Review: The First War on Terror (

As an aside, "The Secret Service, the Ku Klux Klan and the Man Who Masterminded America's First War on Terror" is a mouthful of a subtitle. Back on the 19th century it was commonplace for books to have paragraph-long subtitles. The practice died out, because full-color dust jackets became the marketing billboard for the book. Well, if you haven't noticed, subtitles are creeping back and having a new day in the sun. I thought I knew why, and I was right. Check out this Washington Post look at the topic. -Editor

How many words can you fit in a subtitle? For a slew of modern books, the answer seems to be as many as possible.

Blame a one-word culprit: search. Todd Stocke, senior vice president and editorial director at Sourcebooks, said that subtitle length and content have a lot to do with finding readers through online searches. "It used to be that you could solve merchandising communication on the cover by adding a tagline, blurb or bulleted list," he said. But now, publishers "pack the keywords and search terms into the subtitle field because in theory that'll help the book surface more easily."

Amazon allows up to 199 characters for a book's title and subtitle combined, making the word combination possibilities, if not endless, vast. Anne Bogel, host of the podcast "What Should I Read Next?," is not generally a fan of the trend. "I don't feel respected as a reader when I feel like the subtitle was created not to give me a feeling of what kind of reading experience I may get, but for search engines," she said. When Bogel asked author friends how they came up with their subtitles, several told her they can't even remember which words they ended up using.

That being said, sometimes titular long-windedness works. Bogel cites Julian Rubinstein's "Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts" as a winning formula. "When I see a subtitle like that, I'm intrigued," she said. "I think, how could all those things possibly go together? It makes me want to pick up the book or click on the link and find out more."

To read the complete article, see:
Book subtitles are getting ridiculously long. What is going on? (

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Wayne Homren, Editor

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