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Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America Paperback – November 9, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The chief problem with this otherwise lively chronicle is that it can't decide whether it wants to tell a story, argue a thesis or serve as a warning. As a narrative, sometimes exhausting, of a dark side of modern American history, the work serves just fine. Morgan (FDR; Churchill; etc.) brilliantly relates the history of the efforts since the early 1900s to root out "disloyalty" and dissent in the U.S. His cast of characters includes the usual suspects, like George Creel and Joseph McCarthy, as well as a host of people few will have heard of, many of them colorful, some appalling. Wonderfully characterized by Morgan, they help sustain a disturbing narrative that's riveting by its very nature. The book's double thesis, however, is less secure. Morgan's surely right that long before McCarthy appeared on the scene, McCarthyism-the search for subversion and disloyalty and the use of phony evidence to publicize it-was a feature of the American landscape. That the Cold War started early in the last century is, however, stretching things a bit. At times, Morgan overdraws his comparisons between present and past, as when he characterizes American intervention in Russia in 1917 as "regime change." But his lesson is clear: we're making the same mistakes now in the name of national security that we've made time and time again. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Morgan, who has written widely praised biographies of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, now offers an ambitious, engrossing, and provocative work on the recurring phenomenon of McCarthyism. Morgan broadly defines McCarthyism as the use and abuse of state power and the creation of a climate of fear in order to control and repress the activities of leftist groups. Morgan usually, but not always, takes a balanced approach to his topic; for example, he views the American intervention in the Russian Civil War as the first strike in the century-long struggle against Bolshevism. That is a questionable description of a confused, ill-fated campaign. Morgan is on firmer ground when describing the cynicism and opportunism of J. Edgar Hoover as he exploited fears of communism to enhance his bureaucratic power. Yet Morgan does not minimize the threat posed and the damage done by widespread Soviet espionage. Ironically, he asserts that by the time Joe McCarthy rose to prominence, the worst of the damage had been done, and actual Soviet espionage was on the wane. Given current efforts to expand the government's power to fight terrorism, this is a timely survey sure to provoke controversy. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (November 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297302X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812973020
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,379 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey M. Cavanaugh on June 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Ted Morgan's `Reds', while an informative and balanced history of communism and anti-communism in the United States, suffers needlessly from bloated, journalistic narrative that adds little to his overall thesis that McCarthy and "McCarthyism" was a phenomenon that had deep roots in US history and political culture. Indeed, such a proposition is easily proven; one does not need a doctorate in history to realize the context of the Cold War, a right-wing, rural-populist reaction to the New Deal, and conservative reaction to modernity in the early twentieth-century would create conditions that would allow a figure such as McCarthy to gain political prominence. What is crucial, however, is to make an obvious argument interesting by crafting together a coherent narrative that makes the points Morgan tries to make without overwhelming the work with needless trivia.

It is in this last part that Morgan largely fails. At 614 pages the book covers too much, and, in particular, its focus on McCarthy in the latter half of the book needlessly distracts from the point that domestic communism, though a real threat to internal security in the early twentieth century, had largely been destroyed by the time McCarthy came to national attention. `Reds", in fact, is two books. The first is a concise discussion of domestic communism and the anti-communist overreaction to it in the 1950s, the second a meandering biography of McCarthy and his politics that interrupts the first, more interesting and more important part of the book. The four chapters on McCarthy could well be condensed into a single, more concise chapter.

That being said, `Reds" is, if for nothing else, valuable for its balance and relative objectivity in discussing the threat of domestic communism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Battleship on September 28, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book by Ted Morgan is an informative look at the actions taken against people who were suspected of having Communist links in America. Morgan gives a good background of the roots of McCarthyism in the "Red Scare" during the Wilson administration. There was a lot of fear of the successful Bolshevik Revolution led by V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. Americans were concerned with the socialist and anarchist views gaining popularity during the era. Things reached a fever pitch following the assassination attempt on A. Mitchell Palmer. Palmer and the new head of intelligence J. Edgar Hoover responded by targeting people with dissident views and arresting them in sweeping "Palmer Raids."

Communism gained more sympathy during the Great Depression. Americans knew little about Stalin's purges and gulags. Journalist Lincoln Steffens famously said, "I have seen the future, and it works." People were really horrified and disillusioned when they found out about the horrors of Stalinist Soviet Union. People began to view Communism in a negative light after the Cold War broke out.

Morgan spends most of the book focusing on the actions of Joseph McCarthy. He shows that McCarthy had virtually no proof that the people he accused were Communists. There were Americans who were guilty of espionage. Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs did have connections with the KGB as proven by the VENONA files. McCarthy was a demogogue who was committed to bullying others to gain a prominent position for himself. His actions went a long way to create an anti-Communist hysteria. Morgan provides primary source evidence that McCarthy had little proof that his accusations were true.

Some have criticized the work because Morgan did not spend a lot of time analyzing the psychological aspects of McCarthyism.
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Format: Paperback
Inside this massive tome is a smaller, tighter - and better - book struggling to get out; unfortunately, Morgan expands at length on multiple only distantly related topics, and the result is a bloated smorgasbord that is ultimately dissatisfying. Morgan is not a particularly graceful writer, and seems to want to weave in every detail he uncovered in his research, no matter how trivial, so the narrative often moves slowly, particularly in the second half of the book.

The book is largely a history of anti-Communism in the U.S. It begins with the Russian Revolution in 1917, and describes (internationally) the U.S. attempts to intervene against the Bolsheviks in the ensuing Civil War, and Herbert Hoover's famine relief program in the 1920s, and (on the domestic side) the Palmer raids and the early days of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. Much of this was new material to me, so I found it somewhat absorbing and informative.

The book then describes the flourishing of American Communism during the Depression, Communist involvement in (and significant penetration of) the unionization drive during the 1930s and the evolution of significant Soviet espionage efforts, supported by the Communist Party, and persisting through much of the 1940s. Morgan makes clear that these efforts were both real and substantive, with several Communist agents placed in high governmental positions (particularly Alger Hiss at the State Department, of course, and Harry Dexter White at the Treasury). Material from the Venona intercepts is used to substantiate many of the allegations of Communist espionage efforts made in the immediate post-war years (in the Truman administration).
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