Seth Rosenfeld is an award-winning investigative journalist, book author and expert on public access to government records. His first book, SUBVERSIVES: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power, was published in hardback in 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in paperback in 2013 by Picador, and became a New York Times best-seller.
SUBVERSIVES traces the FBI’s secret involvement with three iconic figures who clashed at Berkeley during the 1960s: the ambitious neophyte politician Ronald Reagan, the fierce but fragile student radical Mario Savio, and the liberal University of California president Clark Kerr. Through these converging narratives, Rosenfeld tells a dramatic and disturbing story of FBI surveillance, illegal break-ins, infiltration, planted news stories, poison-pen letters and secret detention lists. He reveals how the FBI’s covert operations — led by Reagan’s friend J. Edgar Hoover — helped ignite an era of student protest, undermine the Democrats, and benefit Reagan personally and politically. SUBVERSIVES provides a fresh look at the legacy of the sixties, sheds new light on one of America’s most popular presidents, and tells a timely cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power.
Rosenfeld began the research that would lead to SUBVERSIVES in 1981, while a journalism student at UC Berkeley writing for the campus newspaper. Little did he know he was embarking on what would become a three-decade legal odyssey into the FBI’s covert campus activities; that he would bring five lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in a precedent-setting legal fight; and that seven federal judges would order the FBI to release more than 300,000 pages of once-secret files and pay his pro-bono attorney’s fees of more than $1 million. These cases revealed the bureau’s covert operations at one of the nation’s preeminent public universities and strengthened the public’s right to know. The New York Times Book Review called SUBVERSIVES “electrifying.” NPR’s On the Media cited its “stunning revelations,” and Bookforum described it as “a masterpiece of historical reconstruction and narrative propulsion.”
Rosenfeld was a staff reporter for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 25 years, focusing on legal affairs and law enforcement. His stories exposing Dow Corning Corporation’s cover-up of manufacturing defects in silicone gel breast implants that caused women to undergo avoidable surgery led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of implants, and won a George Polk Award for Health Reporting. Rosenfeld’s articles have also won honors from the Society of Professional Journalists; Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.; the American Association of University Professors; and Harvard University’s Goldsmith Award for Investigative Reporting.
Rosenfeld has been featured on National Public Radio and other national and local broadcasts, and has given many talks. His topics include the conflicts between civil liberties and national security; the Freedom of Information Act, excessive government secrecy and the role of the press in democracy; Ronald Reagan’s hidden relationship with the FBI in the years before he became president; and the secret history of the FBI’s activities during the sixties and how they affected individuals, institutions, and politics.
An electrifying examination of a newly declassified treasure trove of documents detailing our government’s campaign of surveillance of the Berkeley campus during the ’60s
SUBVERSIVES is narrative nonfiction at its best. [Rosenfeld] painstakingly re-creates the dramatic—and unsettling—history of how J. Edgar Hoover worked closely with then California governor Ronald Reagan to undermine student dissent, arrest and expel members of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement, and fire the University of California’s liberal president, Clark Kerr . . .
Masterfully researched . . . A potent reminder of the explosiveness of 1960s politics and how far elements of the government were (and perhaps still are) willing to go to undermine civil liberties.
Armed with a panoply of interviews, court rulings, and freshly acquired F.B.I. document, Rosenfeld shows how J. Edgar Hoover unlawfully distributed confidential intelligence to undermine the 1960s protest movement in Berkeley, while brightening the political stars of friendly informants like Ronald Reagan. Rosenfeld’s history, at once encyclopedic and compelling, follows a number of interwoven threads.
In case you’ve forgotten or are too young to know, the 1960s were the template for today’s political divisiveness. In SUBVERSIVES, Seth Rosenfeld chronicles how the abyss formed. His book is crucial history. It’s also a warning . . . Profound thanks to Seth Rosenfeld for outing the truth and speaking truth to power.
SUBVERSIVES presents a new and encompassing perspective... A well-paced and wide-ranging narrative . . . A deftly woven account.
A galvanizing account of the student radical movement in the 1960s...a scathing, convincingly detailed, and evocative indictment of the tactics of the FBI and of Ronald Reagan during his rise to power against the backdrop of Berkeley in the sixties.
a well-written, dramatic narrative ... many scoops
All students of the sixties are indebted to Seth Rosenfeld for his years of persistent work prying documents out of the FBI. Freedom-loving Americans ought to be indebted to him for showing the lengths to which America’s political police went, and how intensely they colluded with Ronald Reagan, to encroach upon liberty.
SUBVERSIVES is more than a documentary history—it has the insight that comes only with relentless reporting. This book is the classic history of our most powerful police agency and one of the most influential political figures of our time secretly joining forces.
I began the research that would lead to Subversives when I was a journalism student at UC Berkeley in 1981, writing for the campus newspaper. I had no idea I was embarking on a thirty-one-year odyssey into the FBI’s covert campus activities; that I would bring five lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act in a precedent-setting legal fight; and that ultimately seven federal judges would order the FBI to pay my pro bono attorneys more than $1 million and release more than 300,000 pages of records revealing J. Edgar Hoover’s efforts to stifle Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio, fire UC President Clark Kerr, and personally and politically help a neophyte politician named Ronald Reagan. Ultimately, SUBVERSIVES is a cautionary tale about the dangers of secrecy and unchecked power. from
SUBVERSIVES by Seth Rosenfeld is the winner of:
- The Ridenhour Book Prize
- PEN Center USA's Literary Award for Research Nonfiction
- National Society of Professional Journalists' Sunshine Award
- Before Columbus Foundations's American Book Award
- SUBVERSIVES by Seth Rosenfeld was selected as one of the Best Books of 2012 by Kirkus Reviews, The Christian Science Monitor and the San Jose Mercury News
Seth Rosenfeld's journalism awards include:
- The George Polk Award for Health Reporting
- The Freedom of Information Award from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.
- The Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information Award from the University of Florida
- A Special Citation from Harvard University’s Goldsmith Award for Investigative Reporting
- The James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism from Hunter College in New York
- The Iris Molotsky Award for Excellence in Reporting on Higher Education from the American Association of University Professors
- The Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the national Society for the Professional Journalists
- Associated Press Managing Editors Association Freedom of Information Award
- Roy W. Howard Public Service Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation
- Edward Willis Scripps First Amendment Award from the Scripps Howard Foundation
- Sunday Magazine Editors Association First Place
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