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Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator Hardcover – December 2, 1999

4.0 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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"Today [Joseph McCarthy] exists in most people's imagination almost solely as an established icon of evil," writes biographer Arthur Herman. His very name has become an epithet: McCarthyism. Yet Herman believes it's time to reexamine the legacy, and in a brave, eponymously titled biography, he argues persuasively that "McCarthy was making a good point badly." Communism represented "a massive and intractable security problem" for the United States during the 1940s and 1950s; furthermore, "Democratic administrations had been unconscionably lax in dealing with an internal Communist threat." Herman doesn't mean to excuse McCarthy's recklessness--only to offer a balanced portrait of the man and his times. Joseph McCarthy simply couldn't have been written before the late 1990s--partly because the subject still stirs fiery passions, but also because Herman makes use of archival material that only became available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. His reassessment will no doubt be met with scorn by many leftists: "McCarthy was always a more important figure to American liberals than to conservatives. The nightmarish image of his heavy, swarthy, sweaty features haunted the imaginations of thousands of anti-anti-Communists throughout the fifties and sixties." Herman usefully points out that McCarthy actually had nothing to do with many aspects of the anti-Communist activities commonly grouped together under the label of McCarthyism, including the House Un-American Activities Committee, probes into Hollywood politics, and university blacklisting. (He also humanizes his subject: Did you know McCarthy was "a minor figure in the Kennedy circle," even dating two of the Kennedy daughters and becoming godfather to Bobby and Ethel's first child?) In the end, Herman offers an outstanding, cool-headed, and much-needed reappraisal of a poorly understood man. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Given recent revelations from Soviet-era archives and new thinking about the Cold War, this biography was probably inevitable. Readers can therefore be thankful that Herman, a historian at George Mason University, has given us an occasionally strained but generally fair study of McCarthy rather than a one-sided defense or assault on him. The book will surely be controversial and subject to attack from all sides, for its author insists that we must hold McCarthy's enemies and victims to the same standards to which we hold him. McCarthy himself was as much a phenomenon as McCarthyism. He rocketed from local Wisconsin office directly into the Senate, where he was quickly marginalized by the defenders of that institution's decorum, which he then scorned and attacked. Depicted by Herman as a reckless, uninformed, publicity-seeking, hard-drinking, mocking man, McCarthy doesn't easily evoke sympathy. But Herman successfully situates the anticommunist zealot in his place and time and among his opponents and supporters better than anyone before him and (by conjecturing cautiously, for example, that he suffered from hypomania) helps us understand, if not honor, his methods and their consequences. In arguing that McCarthy was "always a more important figure to American liberals than to conservatives," Herman opens new avenues for understanding American liberalism, as well as McCarthy's own Republican Party, in the 20th century. Unfortunately, he fails to provide a full picture of the manAhusband (of Jean Kerr, critically important to McCarthy's career), father, sometime bon vivant. Nevertheless, Herman's book is an important contribution. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1St Edition edition (December 2, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684836254
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684836256
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely interesting and well-written book. The premise is that, despite his faults-and there were many, Senator Joseph McCarthy was correct in his underlying premise: that the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations were riddled with active Communist spies, knowing Communist sympathizers and Russian dupes. Making perhaps the single greatest marshaling of facts to date on this subject, Herman demonstrates that these spies and fellow travelers damaged the foreign policy interests of the United States in a variety of ways. Worse still, he demonstrates conclusively that high ranking members of the two administrations knew or should have known about the Soviet infiltration and did nothing about it. Herman, whose fact-dense writing clearly shows his background as a professional historian assembles proof from many sources, but relies heavily on the more recently declassified information and the materials released after the fall of the Soviet Union. Not a fact is stated that is not supported by an original source, all of which are documented in the book's extensive end notes. If you've ever been in an argument with anyone over whether or not Alger Hiss was a Communist spy, you need this book to settle it once and for all.
Rather than trying to rehabilitate McCarthy, Herman is at pains to demonstrate McCarthy's mendacity, sloppiness in making allegations and his many other flaws on nearly every page. Nonetheless, Herman points out that since the liberal establishment could not disprove McCarthy's allegations and , in fact, was mortally embarrassed by them, it diverted attention from the charges by attacking McCarthy himself. The effect of this was to obscure the underlying truth of what McCarthy was saying and of what had really occurred.
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Format: Hardcover
Feared and Smeared

"Joseph McCarthy: Re-Examining The Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator" is a truly outstanding biography of one of the most controversial men in American political history. Previous biographies on the controversial senator from Wisconsin have focused on the politics of the Cold War and Red Scare during the 1950's. Author Arthur Herman takes a look at the actual facts and circumstances surrounding the life and times of Joe McCarthy to explore his historical situation.

Herman properly synthesizes all of the earlier works from William F. Buckley's 1950's "McCarthy and His Enemies" through the tomes of Ellen Schrecker and Thomas Reeve. The result is an objective, unbiased look at what McCarthy accused others of doing and also what he himself did during those times. Herman looks at McCarthy's actions and statements and asks some basic questions: was there a basis for the claim? Where others saying the same thing? Could a reasonable person objectively come to the same conclusion, anti-communist predispositions aside?

Today, we know that many of the claims accusing people of communism, espionage, or of being a security risk have been borne out by the revelations following the collapse of global communism. We know much more today about CPUSA subversion of American democracy from the 1930's through the 1950's (see, "In Denial" and "Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage In America" by Haynes/Klehr and "The Haunted Wood" by Weinstein/Vassiliev for the extent of communist penetration in America). Herman relies heavily on many post-1990's analyses which have buttressed the claims of anti-communists like McCarthy.

There are three key elements that Herman continually revisits throughout the book.
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Format: Hardcover
A great book. Very well written and informative. I have read several books on this subject (Joseph McCarthy and the "red scare") and this the most balanced and clearly stated. Arthur Herman does a great job of summarizing a hugely complex subject in a relatively small book (337 pages not including notes and bibliography).
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Herman does a great job in clarifying the real story of the so-called McCarthy era. Most books and movies rehash the same tired line: innocent Americans were persecuted by witch-hunting Congressional investigators. Herman shows that was not the case. As he points out, no one was deprived of legal counsel or of their Fifth Amendment rights. The McCarthy era was far more benign than the administrations of Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, where Americans were jailed by the thousands for speaking out against the government.

Herman makes a vital point: McCarthy was concerned only with investigating Communist subversions among government employees. He had nothing to do with the Hollywood investigations. Herman makes an even more important point, one that is the heart of his book. There was a massive infestation of Communists in the government. The Truman state department did a horrible job doing background checks on government employees. McCarthyism was not, as most historians have said, a withchunt against innocent liberals. There was a legitimate problem with Communist subversion, and McCarthy was destroyed for trying to do something about it.

Herman freely admits McCarthy made errors of judgment. He also points out McCarthy was often right. I wish more Americans would read this book. What people think they know just isn't so.
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