• Secret City

  • The Hidden History of Gay Washington
  • By: James Kirchick
  • Narrated by: Ron Butler
  • Length: 26 hrs and 15 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (114 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"Not since Robert Caro’s Years of Lyndon Johnson have I been so riveted by a work of history. Secret City is not gay history. It is American history.”
—George Stephanopoulos

Washington, D.C., has always been a city of secrets. Few have been more dramatic than the ones revealed in James Kirchick’s Secret City.

For decades, the specter of homosexuality haunted Washington. The mere suggestion that a person might be gay destroyed reputations, ended careers, and ruined lives. At the height of the Cold War, fear of homosexuality became intertwined with the growing threat of international communism, leading to a purge of gay men and lesbians from the federal government. In the fevered atmosphere of political Washington, the secret “too loathsome to mention” held enormous, terrifying power.

Utilizing thousands of pages of declassified documents, interviews with over one hundred people, and material unearthed from presidential libraries and archives around the country, Secret City is a chronicle of American politics like no other. Beginning with the tragic story of Sumner Welles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s brilliant diplomatic advisor and the man at the center of “the greatest national scandal since the existence of the United States,” James Kirchick illuminates how homosexuality shaped each successive presidential administration through the end of the twentieth century. Cultural and political anxiety over gay people sparked a decades-long witch hunt, impacting everything from the rivalry between the CIA and the FBI to the ascent of Joseph McCarthy, the struggle for Black civil rights, and the rise of the conservative movement. Among other revelations, Kirchick tells of the World War II–era gay spymaster who pioneered seduction as a tool of American espionage, the devoted aide whom Lyndon Johnson treated as a son yet abandoned once his homosexuality was discovered, and how allegations of a “homosexual ring” controlling Ronald Reagan nearly derailed his 1980 election victory.

Magisterial in scope and intimate in detail, Secret City will forever transform our understanding of American history.

A Macmillan Audio production from Henry Holt and Company

©2021 James Kirchick (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

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What listeners say about Secret City

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Exhausting snd enraging and disappointing

Exhaustive and thoroughly researched.

It reads like a textbook, lots of facts and people but lacks a narrative.

One is struck by the systematic attacks on gay people, primarily gay men and it is heartbreaking and enraging.

I could not put it down, yet felt unsatisfied. It needed a good editor and a sweep of a narrative which it lacks.

2 people found this helpful

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Perfect For Gay Pride Month

Meticulously researched and detailed- it covers gay history for more than a half a century- covering it by presidential administrations. It is very concise. It is truly remarkable how gay rights have evolved. Let us all pray that the current evangelical and white supremacist shift in the political situation doesn’t stop it🙏

2 people found this helpful

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Superb book

Although not without its flaws, “Secret City” is full of fascinating material, brilliantly researched and written. Many of the stories that the book relates are simply not available elsewhere, certainly in the depth and drama presented here. It is well-read on Audible, except for a number of mispronunciations of names which mar the listening experience.

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  • JP
  • 07-23-22

fantastic reporting and storytelling

the narration is incredible as it spans decades and he manages to embody famous personalities without it becoming comical while remaining entertaining.

Kirchick has done a phenomenal job of investigating and threading together a myriad of stories to show the damage the fear of homosexuality wrought and how the last half of the 20th century the tide turned so remarkably. the information about the gay corner of the Congressional Cemetery is a poignant capstone to a remarkable book. a must read/listen!

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Fantastic book

Absolutely loved this fascinating book and I have recommended it to tons of friends. Great history of an awful time in history, but it leaves you feeling good about how the majority of Americans have just moved on from homophobia thanks to advocacy and leadership from the gay community and those willing to stand up in support.

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Very powerful telling of this important history.

This powerful telling of history was excellent to sit through. Having Live too much of the time this book covers it was an extraordinary look at a very different world, or older I’m glad to see continuing to fade away. I appreciated the hard work of the narrator and spent hours doing an excellent job. My only comment is to look up the pronunciation of some of the people mentioned, like Nofsinger. Still, amazing job and story.

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Where’s the downloadable pdf character map?

Admittedly, I’m only several chapters into Secret City, but so far I’m not ‘riveted’ as George Stephanopoulos said he was. I assume the author tried to tackle this subject chronologically, but he literally flits around among so many characters over a disjointed timeline that without a printed character map to follow, this listener has been easily confused. Characters that are emphasized at one point disappear from the story and then reappear later (after others have come and gone from the narrative) leaving me feeling lost. If I continue listening to the full 26-plus hours, I may feel differently at the end . . . but at this point I’m not impressed.