The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist places his father at the center of an absorbing history of American political and cultural life in the 1940s and ’50s.
Elliott Maraniss was a journalist and newspaper editor from the time he was a student stringer for the New York Times to his last executive position at Madison, Wisconsin’s Capital Times. Famed Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee called him “a great editor.” Maraniss (Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story, 2015, etc.), an associate editor at the Washington Post, praises his father as “inspirational, level-headed, and instinctive about a good story.” His long career, though, was derailed and undermined by the Red Scare. In 1952, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee after an informant named him as a communist. Elliott attested to his patriotism: He had enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor and rose to become a captain, leading an all-black company—the military was segregated—and receiving an honorable discharge. Nevertheless, HUAC’s accusations were not unfounded: Elliott, along with his wife and brother-in-law, had been members of the Communist Party, dissenters, the author writes, “who believed the nation had not lived up to its founding ideals in terms of race and equality.” Frustrated, “they latched onto a false promise and for too long blinded themselves to the repressive totalitarian reality of communism in the Soviet Union.” Drawing on considerable archival sources, family letters, and his father’s articles, essays, and editorials, Maraniss creates a sensitive portrait of a man who was “young and brilliant and searching for meaning”; whose leftist political perspective was never at odds with his patriotism; and whose optimism never failed him as he confronted considerable professional obstacles. FBI investigations led to his being fired repeatedly. He uprooted his family to five different cities in the five years after his HUAC appearance until he landed a job in Madison and, with a changing political climate, finally was free of persecution.
A cleareyed, highly personal view of a dark chapter in American history.