Ordeal by Slander: The First Great Book of the McCarthy Era

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Basic Books, 2004 - Biography & Autobiography - 268 pages
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Joseph McCarthy was not yet a household name in 1950 when Owen Lattimore was labeled by the senator from Wisconsin as the "top Russian espionage agent in the country." Lattimore, in Kabul, Afghanistan, learned about the accusation a week later. Having already lost valuable time to rebut the smear, he succinctly cabled back that the charge was "pure moonshine," and returned to the United States to defend his good name. He soon dared McCarthy to utter his slander in a venue other than the Senate, where congressional immunity shielded him from lawsuits, but he refused to do so. Following a torturous Senate inquisition, Lattimore published this riveting book which he wrote in white-hot indignation. Judged at the time to be "a masterpiece of factual exposition [and] a social document of first-rate importance,"* this absorbing narrative chronicles how the ordeal threw Lattimore's life into perilous straits, and how he defended himself, while undermining the credibility of his accusers. In a battle for his very liberty, Lattimore prepared for the equivalent of an alley fight with the brawling senator. His supremely competent wife, Eleanor, was his trusted aide; along with attorney Abe Fortas they drew out of Lattimore's writings passages that would prove his loyalty. Yet, as a scholar who was accustomed to nuanced interpretations of current affairs, his accusers were able to conflate the same writings into a traitor's hidden agenda. Ordeal by Slander was the first great book to come out of the McCarthy era, and it remains a supremely topical book for today. "A tremendously stirring, human drama."—The Atlantic Monthly "A disturbing and illuminating book."—The New Yorker

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Ordeal by slander

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The "ordeal" is the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, when Lattimore was accused of being a Russian spy. To defend his name, Lattimore produced this 1950 volume, which became a best seller. ... Read full review

About the author (2004)

OWEN LATTIMORE was one of the foremost China scholars of this century. In 1950 Senator Joseph McCarthy labeled him "one of the top Communist agents in the country." After years of Senate hearings and appeals, he was exonerated and left the United States to become Professor of Mongolian Studies at
the University of Leeds. He died in 1989.
DAVID LATTIMORE is Professor of Chinese Studies at Brown University.

Blanche Wiesen Cook is Professor of History and Women's Studies at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. Her books include Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume I, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and numerous other awards.

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