by David M. Oshinsky ‧ RELEASE DATE: May 16, 1983
Another enormous, ill-written accretion of minutiae intended to assure us--like Thomas Reeves' The Life and Times of floe McCarthy (1982)--that McCarthy wasn't a monster, he just did a lot of harm. ""His approach was so primitive, so cynical, so devoid of commitment to any goal but personal success, that few opponents had the will or stomach to fight him on his own terms."" But: ""He was often a concerned friend, he wanted very much to be liked by those around him, and he could show great kindness in noncompetitive situations."" Oshinsky (Senator Joseph McCarthy and the American Labor Movement) doesn't spend as much time as Reeves battling All-the-Others. Rather, he fights Jack Anderson and claims, misleadingly, to be the first to take due note of certain aspects of McCarthy's life. Yet, like Reeves, he denies that McCarthy was anything but a normal, happy youngster; like Reeves (but more briefly), he notes McCarthy's duplicities in his early Wisconsin political forays; like Reeves, he has no explanation for the apparent inconsistency--or what he calls a Jekyll/Hyde personality. The little interpretation he essays in the political realm is not to be relied on: he makes much, for instance, of McCarthy's Red-baiting in his first, 1946 Senatorial race (one of those things that ""few historians"" supposedly study); this, however, was like everybody else's Red-baiting then--with a touch of McCarthy unscrupulousness (as historians regularly note). It is totally erroneous, moreover, to claim that ""in attempting to document the origins of McCarthyism, historians have traditionally limited their studies to the early Cold War era, 1945-49"": there are many better accounts of American anti-subversion than this. Once into the McCarthy witch hunt, and the events leading to his downfall, Oshinsky's poking into secondary primary sources (as-yet-untapped archives, plus some interviews) does yield some additional detail; but on important matters, he either misses the point--of course McCarthy's attack on Marshall got extra play because he made it (""The Washington reporters, like Parlor's dogs, were trained to respond"")--or sets down commonplaces. A fact-filled rehash only marginally better than Reeves'.
Pub Date: May 16, 1983
Page Count: -
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983
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