JOSEPH McCARTHY by Arthur Herman


Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator
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A combative corrective to the view of McCarthy as red-baiting demagogue that finds the true villains in the liberal establishment and the mainstream media. Using archival materials from the former USSR and declassified US materials, Herman (History/George Mason Univ.) offers evidence validating McCarthy’s anti-Communist pursuits: Alger Hiss, the US Army, pro-Communist federal employees. Most satisfying are his Senate scenes, which have the page-turning life of an Allan Drury novel. But overriding these virtues is the tortuous string of narrow characterizations that make much of the book read like a radio talk-show transcript. FDR envoy to Russia Harry Hopkins is a “Communist dupe,— J. Robert Oppenheimer “a conscious Soviet asset,— General Douglas MacArthur’s insubordination to President Truman “a daring experiment.” Predictably, those most responsible for unseating McCarthy are the most radically revised targets. Rather than acting as a moral barometer, Army counsel Joseph Welch is a crafty Eastern Establishment regular mainly interested in how he appeared on TV. Edward R. Murrow is no beacon of truth but an opportunist whose manipulative McCarthy interviews are central to “the modern media’s exalted self-image.” One of the few events escaping revision is McCarthy’s physical attack on adversarial columnist Drew Pearson: The knee in the groin and flattening slap are registered with disapproval. Herman’s own rhetorical punches point to his reductionist definition of the McCarthy era—a battle pitting atheist commie liberals against churchgoing moral conservatives. This limits the author’s credibility and discounts human complexity. To his credit, Herman provides a more distanced view than Richard Rovere did in his benchmark 1959 biography; yet Herman’s relentless politicizing deprives McCarthy of the dignity of a fallen man. A well-researched but hectoring book that fails to redeem McCarthy and antagonizes readers through its reductionist views of the American people. Librarians, prepare for opinion-blackened margins; readers, argue and run—to more balanced historians.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83625-4
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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