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Washington Gone Crazy: Senator Pat McCarran and the Great American Communist Hunt Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 28, 2004

3.8 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, September 28, 2004
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Joseph McCarthy is the political figure most commonly associated with the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, but Patrick McCarran (1876–1954) was equally virulent. The senator from Nevada was nominally a Democrat, but his politics were firmly reactionary, consistently at odds with Roosevelt and Truman. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he wielded enormous power, getting his way by threatening to slash budgets. Ybarra, a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, meticulously details McCarran's political fights, especially over immigration, which he calls the senator's "white whale, a submerged beast threatening doom." The infamous McCarran-Walter Act had the purported intention to keep subversives out of the country, but its real impact was to keep European refugees (especially Jews) from immigrating. In addition to chronicling McCarran's excesses, though, Ybarra gives equal weight to the evidence that some Communists did manage to infiltrate the federal government, as well as to the "professional ex-Communists" ready to identify real or imagined former comrades. Though this multitrack approach makes the chronology somewhat confusing, the overall result is a chilling testament to one well-placed man's destructive influence over foreign policy and domestic liberty. By favoring careful documentation over demonization, Ybarra's hefty account offers a welcome new perspective on the origins of the Cold War. 32 pages of b&w photos.
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From Booklist

The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy served as the poster boy for America's anti-Communist crusade of the 1950s, but this long-overdue biography makes clear that the real force behind that crusade was the little-remembered Senator Patrick McCarran. In disturbing detail, Ybarra establishes that while the Wisconsin demagogue was capturing headlines, it was the implacable cold warrior from Nevada who--with much less fanfare--turned anti-Communist paranoia into harsh legislation and draconian public policy, thus chilling debate, abridging civil rights, and destroying careers. McCarran emerges as the man who forged the legislative and procedural weapons for fighting Communism, without which McCarthy could never have even started his legendary witch-hunt. Indeed, by scrutinizing the way postwar politics evolved before McCarthy stepped onto the stage, Ybarra shows readers how McCarran almost single-handedly turned the threat of Communist infiltration into the justification for a monomaniacal campaign, waged with both guile and fury. Though far from sympathetic with McCarran's objectives, Ybarra marvels at his skill in dominating Congress, defying Democratic and Republican presidents, and outmaneuvering senior bureaucrats. And unlike McCarthy, whose influence ended as soon as the Senate censured him in 1954, McCarran inscribed his politics of fear deep in America's public policy, leaving behind dubious laws still in force as late as the 1990s. An eye-opening portrait of a largely forgotten twentieth-century titan. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 818 pages
  • Publisher: Steerforth; First Edition edition (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586420658
  • ASIN: B0017HYDCG
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,065,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael J. Ybarra graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a B.A. in political science, and he received an M.A in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. He was a former staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. Ybarra has written about politics and culture for various national publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic and The Washington Monthly.

"Washington Gone Crazy" was a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and it was shortlisted for the Ambassador Book Award in American Studies. The New York Times Book Review included the biography among the 100 Notable Books of the Year. It won the D.B. Hardeman Prize for the best book on Congress from the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation in 2004. Learn more about Michael at www.michaeljybarra.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book contains something missing from almost every other book on the subject of the spy hunts of the 1940's...dispassionate fairness. There are no angels or devils here. Even Americans who spied for the Soviet Union like Whittaker Chambers, Alger Hiss, Elizabeth Bentley, Earl Browder, Harry Dexter White, and others, are shown in the context of the times and as almost ordinary people. The good guys have their faults and the bad guys their virtues. Judgements are left up to the reader. Even the main character, Pat McCarran, comes across, at best, as a kind of anti-hero. If, like me, you're tired of writers who try to push their point of view on the reader, then you're find this book a refreshing change of pace.
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Format: Hardcover
This is another book yearning to be the definitive word on a particular political era. Mr. Ybarra wants to explain how the New Deal of the 1930's indirectly lead to the Red Scare of the 1950's. He uses the political career of Senator Pat McCarran of Nevade to highlight his thesis. He traces the early days of this now-forgotten Senator to concentrating on the post-war years.

Democratic Senator McCarran (1876-1954) was the worker ant of anti-Communist legislation in contrast to his better known counterpart Republican Senator Joe McCarthy of Wisconsin. Corrupt and a law only to himself, Senator McCarran answered to no one and acted as he saw fit to do.

This biography is well-written but long (over 800+ pages) with a lot of legislative details and cultural background of the 1950's. Frankly some of this material has very little to do with McCarran's life and can be skimmed without losing any of the story. Overall, for the reader with a political interest, I recommend this book as a primer on American politics.
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By Buce on September 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
It probably says a lot about Pat McCarran that he grew up in a world where men learned to castrate sheep with their teeth.

We think of the post-war period as the McCarthy Era. But McCarthy was, at the end of the day, a buffoon and a drunk. Even his advocates will concede that he didn't have the staying power for the long haul. By contrast, as Ybarra makes wonderfully clear, it was McCarran who had the energy, the persistence, the focus, to stay on issue and to get what he wanted-to congeal the forces of paranoia and xenophobia that go so far to make us what we are today..

McCarran's toughness and endurance surely owe something to his sheepherder past. His background influenced him other ways perhaps not so obvious. One is that it equipped him to be a loner who really didn't care for anyone else's good opinion. Better to be both loved and feared, said Machiavelli; but if you must choose one, choose fear.

Another McCarran quality was the sense of permanent outsidership, the conviction that he was one of life's insulted and injured. Finally, we have that favorite of the Freudians: an impassioned mother, convinced that her son might grow up to be a hero.

Ybarra is not a graceful stylist. But he is a dogged researcher which, in the end, is a virtue perhaps more to be valued than style. Others have remarked that he goes on a bit long. This second criticism seems a bit harsh: in the age of biographies as heavy as anvils, Ybarra is no more than a middleweight. He does have a bit of a weakness for going of on tangents: he seems not to know how to tell a McCarran story without giving the entire history of the issue that led up to it. Some may regard this as a disadvantage, but I must say, as one who obsesses over the history of the postwar period, I found every page a pleasure to read. For specialized tastes, surely, but for the right audience, this one is hard to beat.
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Format: Hardcover
The title of the book (a phrase of columnist Joseph Alsop) has to be understood as ironic. The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent examination of its secret archives -- the Venona project -- reveals the 'paranoids' like McCarran and Nixon were right about the Communist penetration of the New Deal.

From the post-Cold War perspective, Pat McCarran looks mighty perceptive. It is a flawed greatness, of course.

This is mainly a book about Nevada. Ybarra has written one of the first twenty-first century histories of Nevada. The book turns upside down all of our received wisdom of Nevada history. This is a story of Nevada's maturation into full statehood after a long struggle to survive.

Modern Nevada history begins in Tonopah, and Ybarra has given us a wide-ranging account of its political history. Tonopah men Tasker Oddie, George Wingfield, Key Pittman -- and McCarran -- are all authentic expressions of Nevada. And who else but a Nevadan would give election speeches into the 1940's on the value of Silver. "The Great God Pat," my dad still calls him.

When McCarran writes of Nevada (in his letters) it is with the loving voice of a native.

Nine out of ten readers will misunderstand this book because they are so unaware of their Cold War blinders and the conventional wisdom they carry around with them. Sorta like the reviewer who has missed the Venona revelation that Hiss was a spy and not a victim. McCarran wasn't a saint. He was extremist but not deranged.

I think Michael Ybarra writes with great style, and this is a very well researched book. The publisher could have done a better proofreading job. (The Truckee flows westward at one point, and McCarran travels by train from Reno to D.C. in a day.) Probably, the publisher failed to appreciate the historical magnificence of this work.
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