Lately Thomas' Joe McCarthy is neither hero nor villain. Instead the Wisconsin Senator who lent his name to one of the most virulent political epidemics ever to strike the Republic is dubbed a ""buccaneer"" -- a pirate, a freebooter, a corsair, a man ""not amenable to moral laws because he recognizes none."" McCarthy asked no quarter and he gave none; he swung a mean briefcase and let the points of disorder fall where they may; he recklessly shot a lot of careers dead and scared more liberals out of their red flannel breeches than Morgan had ships to loot. Notorious, yes, was this marauding junior Senator who was born into chicken poverty, who was addicted to bourbon ""in copious quantities,"" whose crudity fascinated even those most repelled by it, whose sense of inferiority thrived on the fear he instilled, whose maverick competitiveness drove him meteorically to the height of power and the abyss of rejection. But was it not also remarkable, asks Thomas, that such a man could during his short four years before the mast on the privateer McCarthyism sent presidents, solons, columnists, the U.S. Army, State Department elites, and assorted government big shots to walk the plank? Do not the improbable feats of the amoral buccaneer transfix us, at least momentarily captivate us? The point is a pirate story can be ""entertaining"" as well as ""instructive"": Thomas achieves both goals by letting us see McCarthy ""as he was -- not prejudged or travestied, but in action."" Lately Thomas, a social historian who specializes in American remarkabiliana, has written his most impressive book.