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The Redhunter: A Novel Based on the Life of Senator Joe McCarthy

4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

If Joseph McCarthy hadn't existed, someone would have had to invent him--the communist witch-hunt he unleashed on 1950s America was, after all, the stuff of epic fiction. Now, it seems, someone has invented the senator from Wisconsin, or at least revised him. And that someone is none other than archconservative political pundit and sometime novelist William F. Buckley Jr., whose 12th work of fiction presents McCarthy in what many readers will consider an original light: that of a hero.

To do so, Buckley starts stacking his deck very early. In a prologue to The Redhunter, a history professor and former McCarthy colleague named Harry Bontecou sits reading a newspaper in a London club. The year is 1991, and as Harry muses over reports of Khmer Rouge atrocities, his mind wanders to the similar carnages committed by Stalin, the Nazis, and the East Germans. Only the arrival of an old, not entirely welcome acquaintance interrupts his reverie:

"Say." The insistent tone was off register in the quiet of the Garrick Club. One had the impression the leather volumes winced at Tracy's voice. "Didn't you used to be Harry Bontecou?"
Obviously the leather volumes are prescient, for the reader soon realizes that Tracy Allshott is both drunk and boorish. After unsuccessfully baiting Bontecou on his early support of McCarthy, he announces priggishly that "there were those of us back in the fifties during the anti-Communist hysteria who were far-sighted and courageous enough to resist McCarthy and McCarthyism."

Whether it is Allshott's ungentlemanly accusations or an ensuing conversation with a repentant former Soviet spy, Harry soon resolves to tell his version of the McCarthy years and The Redhunter really starts to roll. Buckley is too accomplished a writer to hand us a Joseph McCarthy free of sin--indeed, as the story of the senator's life unfolds, we are made privy to such offenses as the teenaged Joe hiring a classmate to take a final exam for him and the young politico Joe stretching the truth to the breaking point in a dirty campaign against his opponent. But the essential morality of the House Un-American Activities Committee is never questioned. In Buckley's view, the threat of Communism was a real one--so real, in fact, that it superceded any notion of due process, free speech, freedom of association, or any of the other little liberties guaranteed in the Constitution. Regardless of how you view McCarthy's actions, however, Buckley's novel offers an entertaining and eye-opening account of his rise and fall, complete with the media frenzy, senate hearings, and back-room maneuverings we've come to expect from literary intrigues Washington-style. This may not be the most objective treatment of the McCarthy years (Buckley ends his novel with a eulogy by Senator Everett Dirksen that describes McCarthy's "reward" for suffering "the vindictive fury which was unleashed against him" as "the living, pulsing shrine of hundreds of thousands of hearts in America"), but for readers with a short memory, it's above average entertainment. --Margaret Prior

From Publishers Weekly

As a fictionalized biography, Buckleys portrait of red-baiting Senator Joseph McCarthy is an earnest but plodding affair that occasionally yields intimate descriptions of the dynamic yet flawed leader who exploited fear of communism in the nooks and crannies of America. As a political novel, though, it makes peremptory claims regarding the postwar anti-Communist movement, with the well-known politically conservative author (Nearer, My God) attempting to justify the moral frenzy with a variety of uneven scenes describing Soviet infiltration and British skullduggery. Buckleys primary narrative vehicle is Harry Bontecou, a Connecticut history professor who tells the story of his involvement with McCarthy in an extended flashback. After graduating from Columbia, Bontecou goes to work for McCarthy, only to find his own passionate pursuit of conservatism betrayed by the senators penchant for half-cocked, extemporaneous accusations of treason. McCarthys proclivity for self-sabotage becomes more pronounced as his committee hearings progress, forcing Bontecou to distance himself from his mentor as the backlash grows. The depiction of McCarthys upbringing on a Wisconsin chicken farm is affecting, as are the scenes describing Bontecous moral dilemmas and McCarthys losing battle with the bottle. But Buckley is more focused on defending anticommunism than on developing his story line, and while he does note the travails of those working with McCarthy, whats missing from this account is the suffering of those whose lives were torn apart by unsubstantiated allegations. History seems to have offered a more balanced judgment on the McCarthy era, and the clarity of that judgment often makes Buckleys narrative seem dated and archaic. Time Warner audio; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 422 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316115894
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316115896
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,886,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I grew up in the 50's and went to college in the 60's. I had been led to believe that anything associated with Joe McCarthy was bad and evil. If one ever saw any merit of being frightened of communisim they would be classified as paranoid and having facist leanings. McCarthy had many faults and may have gone too far in his accusations without proof. However, the fact remains that there were communists in our government working against our concept of democracy. I never understood the snickers and laughs that would surface in denouncing communism. McCarthy is held up to be the enemy by most of the journalists. It seems to me that the real enemy were those who supported a concept of taking away peoples right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom to the right of assemble, etc. Our freedoms are not to be trifled with. I have been in China, East Germany and the old Soviet Union. I am not a big supporter of Joe McCarty, but the concerns of communists in our government working against us should never be taken lightly. The consequences could be costly. With all this in mind, I thought Buckley gave a sommewhat different presentation of who Joe McCarthy was and I have a feeling that his presentation is more accurate than that portrayed by McCarthy's critics.
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Format: Hardcover
If you're a conservative with a lot of liberal friends than you know all about the Great McCarthy Excuse, the leftist argument that essentially runs as follows: "Well, sure, Bill Clinton may have permanently corrupted the American political system and killed innocent civilians in pointless military campaigns designed to keep him from getting impeached, but hey, at least, he wasn't Joe McCarthy!" Nearly fifty years after his disgrace and death, Joe McCarthy remains an all-purpose boogeyman to be trotted out whenever it appears that the Republican Party might be on the verge of making a valid argument. Never mind that McCarthy was a former Democrat and, outside of his anti-communist crusade, was known as a bit of a tax-and-spend liberal. Never mind that conservaitve intellectuals were some of the first denounce him even while such liberal icons as the Kennedy Family continued to support him. Nope, McCarthy is the all-purpose right-wing demon of the leftist imagination and nothing's going to change that. And anything done wrong by a "liberal" will apparently always be justified by the memory of U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Republican of Wisconsin.
If you're like me, you got wise to the shallowness of that argument early on and soon became rather irritated at the way the name "McCarthy" was used an all-purpose justifyer for any amount of fuzzy-headed thinking. That's what makes William F. Buckley's novel, The Redhunter, such a joy to read.
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Format: Audio Cassette
It is a well known fact for those that know me that I am a tireless devotee of William F. Buckley. That's why it has come as a total shock to most that I am of a mixed opinion about THE REDHUNTER: A NOVEL BASED ON THE LIFE AND TIMES OF SENATOR JOE MCCARTHY. Buckley, it seems, has fallen into the same sort of traps that those who have attempted to write "real political fiction" have fallen into before him. The difficulty is, naturally, how does one write an exciting narrative and remain true to the historical fact? Too often Buckley seems to forget that he's writing a novel and proceeds to regail the poor reader with awfully constructed dialogue and atmosphere that attempts to give the story rather than tell the story (if you catch my meaning). Readers of the book will find themselves frequently saying, "nobody talks like this!" or "nobody thinks like that!" simply because Buckley has attempted to fit as much information about the late senator as is possible while neglecting to compensate with adequate character realism. There are however, many redeeming qualities that should be noted. First, just as Buckley promised during his interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, there is much in here that has been previously unreported about McCarthy. Supporters and detractors will find ample heretofor unknown tales. Second, is Buckley's uncanny attention to historical detail. And third, is the moving and sometimes shocking way Buckley writes about McCarthy the man and those around him (for those interested in the life of the late Roy Cohn this book is a must read). Do I recommend it? Insofar as I recommend Buckley in general, though with some caution.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
I missed the McCarthy era.At the time, I was in the Navy in the Pacific, and while acutely aware of what was happening in Korea and the Taiwan Strait, without newspapers and TV McCarthy was a blank page for me.This book helped me understand McCarthy and more important his detractors and their motivations and their opposing points of view.I learned why liberals/democrats fought McCarthy and why someone like Anthony Lake, Clinton's National Security Advisor, as recently as two years ago, maintained that the information that Alger Hiss was a Russian spy was "inconclusive".Thank You Mr. Buckley
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