Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism

2005, first edition, from Harcourt, Inc.
Haynes Johnson
The Age of Anxiety: McCarthyism to Terrorism
Original price $26.00, purchase price $6.40
Hardcover in good condition

Johnson, who was an adolescent at the beginning of the McCarthy period, does offer a bit of his personal history, including his recollections of his father writing the articles that inspired On the Waterfront, but this is mostly a general look at McCarthy and his impact on American society.  At that, we mostly stay in Washington, D.C., or perhaps follow McCarthy on his speaking engagements, including the 1950 Wheeling speech that kicked things off.  There's little here about, for instance, Hollywood.  But Johnson did help me better understand McCarthy, why he had such influence and what a lying, scheming bully he was.  He literally kicked columnist Drew Pearson in the balls, and then boasted about it.  Richard Nixon was the one to break up the fight, as a Quaker!  

The book has lots of stranger-than-fiction details like that, so I found it very entertaining.  I did think Johnson didn't get what leftist criticism of liberals' handling of McCarthyism is/was about, that the liberals not only didn't stand up to McCarthyism enough (if at all), but also sometimes fed into it, as Truman did, although he disliked McCarthy personally.  Johnson thinks Eisenhower was heroic to disagree with McCarthy, but that was in private meetings, his diary, and rough drafts of speeches.  Johnson attributes this to classiness, not cowardice.

As for the "terrorism," in the last two chapters Johnson draws parallels to the Bush II administration, and it is interesting to get a blended contemporary and long-term perspective.  The thing is, Johnson believes that what Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft did is worse than McCarthyism, even if McCarthy paved the way for them.  And that's not really something you can just throw in at the end, it needs to be explored more deeply.  On the other hand, I found it just as interesting as what went before.

This is one of my most recent purchases, and I was reading it while rereading 2003.  It's a pretty long book (600+ pages, counting notes and all) to read twice within a few weeks, but it was worth it, and I look forward to revisiting it again when more time has passed.

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