The fascinating story of self-destruction by a child prodigy who became a leading savant of FDR's New Deal "brain trust." Campbell (History/Mare Hill Coll.; The Politics of Despair:Power and Resistance in the Tobacco Wars, not reviewed) writes of a precocious youngster born in Paris, Ky., in 1915, who learned his politics and legal debating skills in the "old boy"-powered political world of bluegrass Bourbon County, where stuffing ballots was a routine means of controlling elections. Young Prichard headed for the county courthouse after school let out rather than for a playground or the usual boyish watering hole. Campbell follows his brilliant academic career who entered Princeton at 16 and starred at Harvard Law School as a wunderkind who went on to clerk for FDR's Supreme Court appointee Felix Frankfurter. Prichard's spellbinding personality, great learning, and witty storytelling brought him many highly placed friends; he was called the brightest of the young men whom FDR attracted to Washington. He was a sought-after aide and advisor extraordinaire to James F. Byrnes and Thomas G. Corcoran in New Deal and wartime efforts. But Campbell also found that Prichard showed some flaws of immaturity: a tendency to show off and shock people, an intolerance of his intellectual inferiors, and an "end justifies the means" philosophy. One telling symptom of these: He was convicted of stuffing ballots back in Bourbon County in 1948. For years he suffered the existence of a convicted felon—loss of income and family, relentless pursuit by the IRS, etc. And his redemption? Prichard made an unlikely and laborious return to respectability via a new career as a leader in civil rights and political and educational reform, until his death in 1984. A well-written and well-researched biography about a gifted man who needed a moral code and common sense.
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