Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy

The Rise and Fall of Senator Joe McCarthy
by James Cross Giblin
published by Clarion Books
304 pages

Publisher's Description:

When Cold War tension was at its height, Joseph ("call me Joe") McCarthy conducted an anti-Communist crusade endorsed by millions of Americans, despite his unfair and unconstitutional methods. Award-winning writer James Cross Giblin tells the story of a man whose priorities centered on power and media attention and who stopped at nothing to obtain both. The strengths and weaknesses of the man and the system that permitted his rise are explored in this authoritative, lucid biography, which sets McCarthy's life against a teeming backdrop of world affairs and struggles between military and political rivals at home. Chapter notes, bibliography, index.

My Comments:

Giblin does a great job of presenting McCarthy as a villain that you love to hate. His writing engaged me right away, and I enjoyed reading about McCarthy's entire life from his humble beginning on a Wisconsin farm through his ignoble death.

The book is full of quality photographs and illustrations from throughout McCarthy's life and career, and they seem carefully chosen to help tell the story. The acknowledgements mention Giblin's assistant Michael Cooper, who helped to search the National Archives and Library of Congress for photographs and political cartoons. Information and photographs were also gathered from the University Archives at Marquette University (McCarthy's alma mater), the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Outgamie County Historical Society in Wisconsin.

At one point, Giblin recounts a personal incident from his college days, without mentioning in the text that it was personal. In the account, a college professor refrains from discussing topics that he is afraid will get him fired. I guessed that the anonymous student in the professor's class that Giblin mentioned was himself, and flipped to the notes in the back to see whether it was mentioned there. It was. I liked this, both because it showed me that Giblin's notes are useful, and also because it would have been a little suspect if he'd just included that anonymous incident without providing any source to document it. Not every reader would care to know the complete back-story, so it makes sense to include it in the notes where only the curious will find it.

I found the index to be detailed and very useful. There are a lot of names to keep up with, and I encountered a couple towards the end that I couldn't remember from earlier in the text. Using the index, I was able to quickly and easily refresh myself on their roles in McCarthy's story.

Wikipedia is included among the many sources Giblin quotes. Many Wikipedia articles offer authoritative citations (including the ones he cites, which seem particularly well documented to me) making them valid source materials. I think that Giblin shows teens that there is a right way to use Wikipedia.

Your comments? Please don't hold back!


  1. Donna,

    I love this book! And I love this blog! Here's another suggestion: SPIES OF MISSISSIPI by Rick Bowers already has a couple starred reviews.


  2. Donna,

    Congratulations on this terrific new blog! I couldn't agree more that there is NEVER enough quality nonfiction - although this last publishing year had a record number of outstanding titles. I will definitely be a regular reader. Loved the review of the Giblin book. I too thought it was exceptionally well written - and completely fascinating. I thought Giblin presented this complex individual with great skill.

    Keep up the good work!

    Lynn Rutan

  3. Sounds great! I recently read the 2009 novel Struts & Frets, and as a tie-in, the main character's aging grandpa obsesses about McCarthy.

  4. Thanks for the comments! Sorry they didn't show up right away, I didn't realize that I'd set it up so that I have to moderate them before they appear on the blog.