The Redhunter

The Redhunter

4.6 3
by William F. Buckley Jr.

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From William F. Buckley Jr., comes an engrossing and unexpected historical novel about one of the most controversial figures in American political history - Senator Joe McCarthy. Senator McCarthy rose and fell in just four years, yet he gave a name, lastingly, to an era. It wasn't until February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia, that McCarthy bewitched a nation -…  See more details below


From William F. Buckley Jr., comes an engrossing and unexpected historical novel about one of the most controversial figures in American political history - Senator Joe McCarthy. Senator McCarthy rose and fell in just four years, yet he gave a name, lastingly, to an era. It wasn't until February 9, 1950 in Wheeling, West Virginia, that McCarthy bewitched a nation - and unleashed a crusade - with his claim that Communists had infiltrated the United States government. In The Redhunter, a blend of fact and fiction, Buckley tells the story of Harry Bontecou. Freshly graduated from Columbia, Bontecou joins McCarthy and remains at his side for three critical years. But when McCarthy's judgment becomes clouded by prosecutorial zeal and reckless extravagance, Bontecou delivers an ultimatum: McCarthy must choose between Bontecou and Roy Cohn, McCarthy's ruthless aide. By then we have seen at close hand Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, J. Edgar Hoover, and Dean Acheson in memorable portraits of leaders in action.

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Editorial Reviews

Geoffrey Wheatcroft
This book is genuine page-turner. And it gives a vivid portrait of Joseph McCarthy...[A] highly enjoyable novel-with-attitude.
Wall Street Journal
Terry Teachout
Though The Redhunter is not short, I polished it off in a day...mainly because it is so wonderfully readable....a witty, fast-moving yarn....[T]he feel of The Redhunter is substantially memoiristic...
National Review
George Stade
Mr. Buckley is at his best in serving up the...brouhaha, hearings and behind-the-scenes maneuverings, the meat of the novel, the rest mere condiment and garnish by comparison....Mr. Buckley deserves praise for giving equal time to McCarthy's enemies, if only dismiss them.
New York Times
Charles McCarry
...[A]n honorable and, for the persevering, an absorbing book....[A]n evocative portrait of the Joseph R. McCarthy we already know: a plaything of blind fate and blind ambition who was born poor and stayed poor in his own mind no matter how famous and powerful he became....[I]t ought to be a cry from the heart. The Redhunter, for all its considerable merits, is far too polite. —The New York Times Book Review
Robert D. Novak
Only a wordsmith of William F. Buckley's caliber could tryand largely succeedin depicting Joe McCarthy as an engagingsympatheticand ultimately tragic figure....[T]he Left...turned the senator into an ogre of Hitlerian dimensions....The Redhunter does succeed a little in shredding that liberal contrivance. —The Weekly Standard
McCarthy. It's a name that can chill your spine, conjuring up images of overweening arrogance, willful ignorance and lowest-common-denominator pandering, all perpetuated in the name of giving the American people what they think they want. It's a name which will always taste slightly bitter when rolled across one's tongue, reminding us of the appalling way in which the modern cult of personality can—with the help of TV cameras—turn an otherwise unremarkable individual into an overnight sensation.

I refer, of course, to Jenny McCarthy, the spectacularly untalented and momentarily ubiquitous star of magazines and cable and network television. Jenny's enhanced bosom and perpetually-mugging countenance somehow enabled her to become queen for a day of the American zeitgeist, circa 1996, but she wasn't the only McCarthy to go from zero to hero and back again in the span of a few short years. It's another, Senator Joseph R.—self-appointed scourge of the "Red Menace,' and the very personification of the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s—whose abrupt rise and fall forms the basis for the new historical novel by William F. Buckley Jr.

Sent to the U.S. Senate in 1948 by his home state of Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy quickly found that, though his oratorical skills were mediocre at best, he could stir up plenty of interest by pushing the hot-button topic of the era—namely, the rapid spread of Communism at home and abroad. McCarthy, whose favorite tactic was to announce that he had "a photostatic copy' of a list of Commie sympathizers in one government department or another, fell in love with the attention his blusteringpronouncements brought, and much of the country fell in love with him, at least for a while. McCarthy's "tell-it-like-it-is' style endeared him to the commonfolk as well as the media, both of whom viewed the Senator as not only a righteous defender of the American Way of Life, but also as a refreshing contrast to the effete, passionless ways of his congressional colleagues.

The love affair was not to last. Caught up in the momentum of his own crusade, McCarthy began to take on ever-larger targets, even training the scope of his Red-hunting gun on the White House and the U.S. Army. In 1954, the nationally-televised Army-McCarthy Hearings did much to discredit McCarthy, especially when it was revealed that Roy Cohn, McCarthy's chief counsel, had repeatedly tried to shake down the Army for special treatment on behalf of one David Schine, Cohn's close companion and "unpaid researcher.' Almost overnight, the Senator's popularity ratings went down the tube; officially censured by his colleagues before the year's end, McCarthy would spend his remaining days on earth drinking himself into oblivion.

Considering the fact that, back in the day, Buckley was an ardent supporter of McCarthy and his cause, The Red Hunter is hardly the sympathetic portrait one might suspect. Buckley's conservative bent is indeed evident, especially in his criticism of President Truman's handling of post-war negotiations with Josef Stalin, but never once does he present the late Senator as a hero or martyr. Through the eyes of Harry Bontecou, a former McCarthy speechwriter, we see an average human being with an above-average capacity for hard work, a staggering propensity for lofty rhetoric and the extraordinary ability to polarize a community; throughout his entire political career, Joe McCarthy was always a love-him-or-hate-him proposition.

Though the novel's tightly wound subplot offers a rather paltry payoff (in a nutshell: Bontecou discusses McCarthy with a former British diplomat/Soviet spy, who is eventually re vealed to be someone more than he appears), Buckley is smart to let the Bontecou character be our guide. For one thing, this enables us to see McCarthy from the perspective of the people who worked for him and adored him; thus, we can effectively share in their horror as, egged on by Cohn—whom Buckley depicts as nothing less than a malevolent homunculus seated on the Senator's shoulder—McCarthy begins to transform himself from American patriot into a town bully. For another, it allows Buckley to avoid mentioning the many individuals whose lives were needlessly ruined by McCarthy's crusade; after all, as a member of McCarthy's inner circle, Bont ecou would have been very careful not to socialize with anyone who exhibited anything even remotely resembling Communist sympathies.

Though short on cultural detail—Mrs. McCarthy's towering hairdo is possibly the only non-political period reference in the entire novel—The Red Hunter does an excellent job of reconstructing the political milieu of the Korean War era. The novel also serves as a stern warning to those who would let their own victories (political or otherwise) go to their heads. As Joe McCarthy himself might have said to Newt Gingrich, Kenneth Starr or Jenny McCarthy, sometimes you gotta know when to quit. —Dan Epstein
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Buckley, ever the sage political pundit, chooses the foil of fiction to present his gently revisionist view of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The author reads his own heartfelt introduction, in which he reminisces that he "knew the senator" and calls him an "extraordinary man." He reminds listeners that McCarthy's crusade against alleged Communists in the U.S. government took place during "the darkest days of the Cold War." The novel itself is read with pleasant, smoky-voiced assurance by veteran audio narrator Cariou. A seasoned actor, he comes across wise, considered and compassionate. Thanks to Buckley's skills within the commercial fiction genre, the tale motors along with great velocity. McCarthy rises from his early chicken-farming days to seize ruthless power on the Senate floor. A parallel plot follows the career of World War II hero Harry Bontecou, whose life provides adventurous counterpart to McCarthy's. Buckley's wiles at turning an ugly historical episode into an adventure novel are considerable, and the result plays out as compelling audio. Also available unabridged. Based on the 1999 Little, Brown hardcover. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Not, perhaps, the most romantic protagonist. Buckley's take on the senator should be obvious.
Joseph Shattan
Of course, The Redhunter is an artful blend of fact and does convey a picture of McCarthy and his supporters that is both sympathetic and plausible.
The American Spectator
Sam Tanenhaus
[A]n arresting hybrid of fact and his protagonist, Buckley is not a detail man, and errors litter the narrative. But this does not detract from his achievement, which is to enteratin even as he proposes a daring premise: That McCarthy was human after all.
First Things
[A] fascinating tale fascinatingly told, and is warmly recommended to those who want to make sense of a tumultuous time that continues to reverberate through our political culture.
Kirkus Reviews
A fictional portrait of Joe McCarthy—sympathetic but not sanitized—in which clay feet replace cloven hooves. Here's 20-year-old McCarthy needing to pass a written exam in order to get back into high school. But he's not good at written exams. To him, it seems more efficient simply to draft a friend to take the test for him. Some years later, running for his first elective office and facing a popular incumbent, he informs the tax-jittery electorate that his rival has earned between $175,000 and $200,000. He neglects to add that it took 20 years for this sum to accrue. Sharp dealing, half-truths, and innuendoes abound, and McCarthy detractors will point to these as the mark of the man. But Buckley wants his readers to see McCarthy through the eyes of Harry Bontecou, the novel's second-string hero. Harry, young, brilliant, politically conservative, and fervently anti-Soviet, views McCarthy as standing in the nation's first line of defense against an enemy far too lightly regarded. It's the man's constancy, courage, and foresight that draw Harry to him. To Harry (as to McCarthy), it's clear that only fools or villains can doubt that "loyalty risks" operate in the State Department, shaping (and corrupting) American foreign policy. Harry signs on with the redhunting senator, and through him we witness most of the events constituting his meteoric rise and calamitous fall in just a four-year period starting in 1950. We watch the offstage McCarthy as well—the easygoing charmer, the blindly loyal friend, the smitten lover, the hapless drunk. And then, at the climactic Army-McCarthy hearings, we see him come apart, the victim of his own excesses. But, according to his friend Harry,he's never small-minded or mean-spirited. Brisk, engrossing, vintage Buckley (Brothers No More, 1995, etc.). Given that it's a tale unabashedly partisan, it is—for the most part—surprisingly credible.

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Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Operation Babysitter Series: Soccer Cat
Edition description:
1st Edition
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.49(d)
Age Range:
13 Years

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Redhunter 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Russell_Kirk More than 1 year ago
One of Mr. Buckley's highly polished products; it flowed from chapter to chapter seamlessly; a hybrid novel that whet the reader's appetite wanting more at the conclusion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
William F Buckley does a magnificent job of showing us the real Joe McCarthy, a flawed Patriot. The jury may still be out on whether McCarthy did more to help or harm the cause against Communism but there is little doubt that his intentions were worthy, if not always his methods.