- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; First edition (April 12, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520204727
- ISBN-13: 978-0520204720
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 11 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,125 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Senator Joe McCarthy First Edition
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Richard Rovere, a longtime New Yorker staff writer who died in 1979, combined three all-too-rare journalistic traits--legwork, style, and bravery--to create this 1959 J'accuse, which Walter Lippman called "the definitive job." Rovere had a handle on the particulars, as illustrated by his surgical disassembly of Joe McCarthy's fantastic autobiography, and the abstract principles, as illustrated by his comment that McCarthy's victories were mostly in "matters of an almost cosmic insignificance." His causes celebres were causes ridicules. The University of California Press is to be congratulated for this paperback reissue. After all, even if anticommunism is on sabbatical, demagoguery is not, and it pays to stay up on the tricks of the trade.
From Library Journal
In this "hard-hitting account," Rovere shows how "McCarthy terrorized and silenced routine jobholders, great political and military figures, artists and scientists, and yet vanished abruptly as a political force three years before he died" (LJ 6/15/59).
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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My father saw McCarthy speak at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1950's and recalled that every time the skeptical students called for McCarthy to show his evidence, the Senator kept answering that he had the proof right there - but never revealed it. Same old story. Did soviet communist spies exist? Yes. Did McCarthy find any? No.
Senator McCarthy was not elected because he was dangerous. That McCarthy came to dominate American politics for the last years of the Truman administration and the first few couple of years of the Eisenhower administration was unforeseen by anyone, least of all himself. His rise from anonymity to become among the strongest people in the Unites States, and therefore in the world, was sudden. His decline was even faster, and if McCarthy started 1954 as a major player, by January 1955 Vice President Nixon could report that he was no longer any danger to the administration.
Richard H Rovere, a journalist and an observer of the politics, wrote in 1959 what was seen at the time as the definite account of the Senator from Wisconsin. Rovere, a master of prose, is best when making a psychological portrait of McCarthy, seeing him as an empty cynic, a vain man who believed in nothing, who hunted not for power, but for money and glory. He was a dangerous man, who turned America away from important foreign policy issues and focused on looking for spies, traitors and "bad security risks" - and, although he terrorized the government, forced conformity, and shrank American freedoms, never found any.
Yet there is also a certain mischievous appreciation in Rovere's description. He says that McCarthy was not in the Republican San Francisco convention of 1956, and that it was duller for his absence (p. 242). His descriptions of McCarthy's manipulation of the press, the way he knew how to create a story, appreciates the ingenuity of the Senator. And if McCarthy was a cynic, who ruined people who have not sinned, he also did it without spite or malice. As Rovere has it, McCarthy never took himself seriously, even as the world did (p. 58)
Perhaps the best insight Rovere has into McCarthy is his description of McCarthy's great innovation "The Multiple Untruth". Not a single lie or even a few, McCarthy's lies were so huge and inconsistent, that they were almost impossible to disprove. Any part of it that you knocked down would also make the rest seem the more solid. McCarthy blew so much smoke that people assumed there must have been a fire somewhere.
Rovere's greatest weakness is in explaining the chronology of McCarthy, and the background. Much of it is because he wrote for people of 1959, who knew the general outline. But for people with only a very general knowledge of the 1950s, Rovere's book never quite explains things all the way through. This is especially bad in his description of the Army-McCarthy hearings. As someone who is not very familiar with the events, I emerged from that vital part only slightly more enlighted then before.
Another failure is the journalistic defense of sources, which keeps several of the people involved disguised. It is a little annoying to have pages devoted to either an "unnamed reporter" or to an "X".
Both failures could have been addressed by the introduction, written in 1996 by historian Arthur M Schlesinger Jr. Unfortunately, except for a few none too revealing comments on Rovere himself, Schlesinger chose to waste his introduction on a summery of the book's argument.
If the lack of background and specifics make the book a less then perfect history of McCarthy and his time, Rovere's fantastic prose make it a most pleasurable read nonetheless.
His discussion of the effectiveness of McCarthy's networks of informants: "If any communists [existed in the government agency], they were so well hidden that the sort of people who were in the underground [i.e. McCarthy's informants], would never find them - unless, of course, some of those in the underground were communists, which was not altogether out of the question". (pp. 197-98)
Elsewhere, Rovere comments that "Hollywood has always been a hotbed of conformity, and advertising it always ready to ride with any hounds. By their very nature, these institutions yield before external pressure; it is, in fact their substitute for inspiration".
Though dated, Rovere's is still a fascinating and very well written study.
Most recent customer reviews
Also unfortunate that it is not required reading for all voters in America in 2016.Read more