cover image Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

Larry Tye. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $36 (608p) ISBN 978-1-328-95972-0

Biographer Tye (Bobby Kennedy) delivers a sure-handed account of the rise and fall of Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy. Drawing from a previously unavailable archive of McCarthy’s “unscripted writings and correspondence,” Tye looks to correct misconceptions large and small, including what actually took place behind closed doors of the 1953–1954 Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and how McCarthy could be “incongruously generous to those he had just publicly upbraided.” Analyzing the origins of McCarthyism, Tye describes McCarthy’s “last-minute” decision in 1950 to substitute a talk on housing policy for a speech alleging communist infiltration of the U.S. state department, and President Truman’s 1947 Loyalty Order, which “mandated checks on nearly 5 million federal employees and applicants” and identified 299 “subversive organizations,” including the Jewish Culture Society. (Some historians, Tye notes, believe that 1950s anti-Communism should have been called “Trumanism.”) The book’s most provocative sections, including a posthumous diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a roundup of “lurid” claims that noted homophobe McCarthy was gay, add color but lack definitive proof. Though Tye occasionally veers into minutiae (as with the recipe for McCarthy’s venison meatballs), he maintains a brisk pace throughout. The result is a searing and informative portrait of the man and his specific brand of self-aggrandizing demagoguery. Agent: Jill Kneerim, Kneerim & Williams (July)