A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father

David Maraniss. Simon and Schuster, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5011-7837-5

Communism was as American as apple pie, according to this searching account of a family’s Cold War ideological journey. Pulitzer-winning Washington Post editor Maraniss (Barack Obama) recounts his father Elliott’s 1952 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he took the Fifth to duck questions about his past membership in the Communist Party but offered an impassioned defense of his constitutional rights; he was fired from his job at a Detroit newspaper and blacklisted for several years. Drawing on Elliott’s essays, letters, and FBI files, Maraniss explores his family history—his uncle, who fought in the Spanish Civil War, and mother were also Communists—to show how politics molded individual lives as his father evolved from a left-wing student journalist, idealistic but subservient to the Stalinist party line, to an officer who fought racism in the army in WWII, to a rueful ex-communist liberal who voted for Eisenhower. Maraniss also weaves in insightful studies of other figures in the post-war Red Scare, including his father’s African-American attorney George Crockett, who defended communists as allies against Jim Crow, and the grandmotherly FBI informant who denounced Elliott. Clear-eyed and empathetic, Maraniss’s engrossing portrait of a patriotic, baseball-loving red reveals the complex human motivations underneath the era’s clashing dogmas. (May)