The best books on red scares in the USA

Larry Tye Author Of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy
By Larry Tye

Who am I?

Larry Tye is a New York Times bestselling author whose most recent book is Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy. Before that, he was an award-winning reporter at The Boston Globe, where his primary beat was medicine. He also served as the Globe’s environmental reporter, roving national writer, investigative reporter, and sports writer. Tye, who graduated from Brown University, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 1993-94. He taught journalism at Boston University, Northeastern, and Tufts.


I wrote...

Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

By Larry Tye,

Book cover of Demagogue: The Life and Long Shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy

What is my book about?

America’s first Red Scare happened in the wake of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution when there was a widespread fear that anarchism, radicalism, and revolution were spreading here. The second Red Scare, which was more pandemic and lasted longer, occurred in the wake of World War II and coincided with the launch of the Cold War. The terror this time was that communists were infiltrating our government and stealing not just the formula for the atomic bomb but America’s very soul. The backlash – to believers, it was pinpointing the risk, to foes, it constituted unfounded fear-mongering – became an ism named for its loudest tribune, Senator Joe McCarthy.

Our increasingly polemical and ideological domestic divides, and building tensions with China and Russia, suggest we could be in for a Third Red Scare, and that readers might want to bone up on the defining one from seventy years ago. Here are some books they might not know about, but ought to.

The books I picked & why

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McCarthyism: The Fight for America

By Joe McCarthy,

Book cover of McCarthyism: The Fight for America

Why this book?

The fairest way to begin to explore the conspiracy McCarthy and his backers feared is to hear it from the Cassandra himself. Joe lays out his case in this thin volume.


The Age of Suspicion

By James A. Wechsler,

Book cover of The Age of Suspicion

Why this book?

Wechsler was the editor of The New York Post, a short-lived Communist and lifelong liberal, and a favorite target of McCarthy and McCarthyism. Wechsler’s razor-edged analysis of the era is the ideal counterpoint to McCarthy’s, and offers a lens into the scare’s flesh-and-blood victims.


Joe McCarthy And The Press

By Edwin R. Bayley,

Book cover of Joe McCarthy And The Press

Why this book?

Bayley, a political reporter for the Milwaukee Journal during McCarthy’s rise and reign, offers riveting details about how the press enabled the Red Scare in a book that is at the same time dispassionate and telling for today.


Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America

By John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr,

Book cover of Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America

Why this book?

Haynes and Klehr are two of the few Cold War scholars who could be considered neutral, which means they enrage both colleagues who see the second Red Scare as a paranoid reaction and those who see it as a Godsend. In this volume, Haynes and Klehr use newly-unveiled cables between Soviet spies and spymasters to unwind fantasy from reality in the charges leveled by McCarthy and his fellow alarmists.


The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

By David K. Johnson,

Book cover of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government

Why this book?

Reds weren’t the scare’s only bogeymen, as historian Johnson makes clear in this best-ever telling of how McCarthy and his fellow travelers used their trademark tactics to ignite and sustain what became known as the Lavender Scare.


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