This new biography of Joseph R. McCarthy shows how the Wisconsin Senator’s campaign against American Communists prized sensation above truth. McCarthy often put aside his hunt for Reds while he pursued his anti-communist critics. He fought foes not just with noisy accusations but with covert gossip. He was gullible enough that some con artists managed to lure him on wild goose chases. The man who charged others with being “dupes” was sometimes one himself.
Historian Fried’s book builds on over a decade’s research in a multitude of sources, many of them newly opened—not just McCarthy’s own papers but those of forty-seven Senate colleagues, plus records of journalists, observers, and activists. It brings to light such theatrical episodes as a CIA “op” against McCarthy as well as Joe’s quixotic search for Soviet security chief Lavrenti Beria in Spain. The resulting multi-focal perspective on the political and institutional setting in which McCarthy operated with such abandon is full of drama.
Richard M. Fried taught various courses in Recent US History at the University of Illinois Chicago until his retirement in 2009, primarily focusing on political history with a strong interest in political culture. He published four books: Men Against McCarthy (1976); Nightmare in Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (1990); The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! Pageantry and Patriotism in Cold-War America (1998); and The Man Everybody Knew: Bruce Barton and the Making of Modern America (2005), a biography of the famous adman, religious writer and political figure.
Chapter 1. From Grand Chute to Appleton
Chapter 2. Mr. McCarthy Goes to Washington.
Chapter 3. Wisconsin’s Junior Senator
Chapter 4. Appointment in Wheeling
Chapter 5. The Tydings Trainwreck: Investigating McCarthy
Chapter 6. The Making of Joe McCarthy
Chapter 7. A St. George Deep in Dragons
Chapter 8. Hidden Hands and Junketeering Gumshoes
Chapter 9. At War with the Army
Chapter 10. Of “Secret Masters” and “Unheard-of Things”: Censure
Chapter 11. Frozen in the Cold
This biography of Joseph McCarthy is written with verve and clarity. Fried reexamines issues previously explored by other historians and journalists, but manages to add a trenchant analysis of McCarthy’s career. Although McCarthyism, the Wisconsin Senator’s attempt to supposedly expose communism in the US government, suggested a larger ideological mission, Fried convincingly demonstrates that with McCarthy it was all personal. Despite his affable personality, McCarthy had a sizable chip on his shoulder. Anti-communism did not start with him, but as Fried asserts, McCarthy desperately needed an issue to champion for his reelection. His hearings and his charges made him famous, and despite knowing next to nothing about Marxism, in the words of a colleague, “he talked himself into believing” he had unmasked a “conspiracy so immense.” Unwilling to take any advice, McCarthy pressed his anti-communist crusade with undisciplined abandon, eventually landing himself in trouble when he was censured by the Senate in 1954. Fried also correctly notes that McCarthy confused the issue by going after “trifling” targets like Annie Lee Moss and Irving Peress, rather than anyone of consequence like Harry Dexter White or Alger Hiss. An excellent work. Highly recommended.
Historian and Wisconsin native Fried draws on new information in such sources as recently released papers at Marquette University to add rich, sad, and mordantly funny details to public knowledge about Wisconsin senator and notorious anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy. Many people have fragmentary or partisan views of McCarthy; Fried offers an even-handed and complete view. Along the way, some descriptions of campaigns and Senate processes and investigations can be confusing, but Fried mitigates this with clear summaries…. Fried examines similarities and differences between McCarthy and former President Trump and concludes that McCarthy damaged many lives and did more harm than good to the anti-communist cause, both domestically and among American allies.
A Genius for Confusion is the extraordinary result of Rick Fried's meticulous research and deep understanding of McCarthy that places him in his times and yet reverberates so loudly today.
For this lively account of McCarthy’s rise and fall, updated in light of the post-Venona debates, the distinguished historian Rick Fried has mined the records of hundreds of politicians and other McCarthy contemporaries of all political persuasions. The result is a measured but nonetheless damning assessment of McCarthy’s character and legacy. Political junkies will appreciate Fried’s expert analysis of McCarthy’s evolving impact on state and national election campaigns.
Ambitious, impulsive, aggressive, and reckless. Joe McCarthy sowed disorder and distrust. The opening of many archives has allowed Richard Fried to authoritatively assess McCarthy’s sensational accusations–along with those made against him. Fried's findings are chillingly relevant.
2/9/23, History As It Happens podcast: Rick Fried discussed the book on the anniversary of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s watershed speech.
8/24/23, Choice Reviews: This title was featured in a roundup of August 2023 top 75 community college titles.