The definitive biography of the most dangerous demagogue in American history, based on first-ever access to his personal and professional papers, medical and military records, and recently unsealed transcripts of his closed-door Congressional hearings
In the long history of American demagogues from Huey Long to Donald Trump, never has one man caused so much damage in such a short time as Senator Joseph McCarthy. We still use “McCarthyism” to stand for outrageous charges of guilt by association, a weapon of polarizing slander. From 1950 to 1954, McCarthy destroyed many careers and even entire lives, whipping the nation into a frenzy of paranoia, accusation, loyalty oaths, and terror. When the public finally turned on him, he came crashing down, dying of alcoholism in 1957. Only now that his papers are available can the full story at last be told.
Demagogue is a masterful portrait of a human being capable of great evil, yet great charm. McCarthy was a tireless worker and a genuine war hero. His ambitions knew no limits. Neither did his socializing, his drinking, nor his gambling. When he finally made it to the Senate, he flailed around in search of an agenda and angered many with his sharp elbows and lack of integrity. Finally, after three years, he hit upon anti-communism. By recklessly charging treason against everyone from George Marshall to much of the State Department, he became the most influential and controversial man in America. His chaotic, meteoric rise is a gripping and terrifying object lesson for us all. Yet his equally sudden fall from fame offers reason for hope that, given the rope, most American demagogues eventually hang themselves.