Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2020. 608p. ISBN 9781328959720. $36. BIOG
In this contribution to a fuller depiction of the formidable figure for whom the term McCarthyism originated, Tye (Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon) paints a portrait of Joseph McCarthy (1908–57) using previously unavailable archives and firsthand interviews with those who both supported and opposed the politician. Written in a straightforward, judicious style, Tye’s book portrays the charms and evasions of this multifaceted World War II veteran, circuit judge, Wisconsin senator, and anti-Communist agitator. Tye shows how McCarthy had support across partisan lines as chair of the Senate Committee on Government Operations in the early 1950s. The author continues by providing insight into how the tumult McCarthy provoked divided organizations such as the Congress of Industrial Organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union; some members supported his goals of removing purported Communist proponents from positions of responsibility, but not his bullying tactics. Tye suggests that McCarthy’s methods are more than memories from the not-so-distant past; rather, they are warnings of the disruptive nature of unrestrained populism.
VERDICT Often previously studied, McCarthy’s career and consequences merit this additional analytical treatment that will satisfy curious readers of history. A definitive biography that will stand the test of time.
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