A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father

A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father

In a riveting book with powerful resonance today, Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Maraniss captures the pervasive fear and paranoia that gripped America during the Red Scare of the 1950s through the chilling yet affirming story of his family’s ordeal, from blacklisting to vindication.Elliott Maraniss, David’s father, a WWII veteran who had commanded an all-black compan...

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Title:A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father
Author:David Maraniss
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A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father Reviews

  • Nancy

    Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

    In the years between my father's retirement and his recovery of grief over the early loss of my mother, he bought an electric typewriter and wrote his memoirs. Dad took his pages to the office supply store and printed and bound them to distribute among his family and friends. Dad was very proud to know people enjoyed reading about his childhood growing up during the Depression in

    Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

    In the years between my father's retirement and his recovery of grief over the early loss of my mother, he bought an electric typewriter and wrote his memoirs. Dad took his pages to the office supply store and printed and bound them to distribute among his family and friends. Dad was very proud to know people enjoyed reading about his childhood growing up during the Depression in a changing world, his father's time as a volunteer fireman and building a gas station, his adventures in scouting and camping along the Niagara River, meeting my mother, and running the family business after his father's death until our move to Detroit where he hoped to secure a job in the auto industry.

    I shared these memories on my blog and on Facebook, attracting lots of readers from our hometown. But there was much missing between these stories. He wrote little about his marriage and us kids. And stories that he told me that were more personal, or that Mom had shared, were left out.

    We show the world who we hope we are, hiding the deepest pain and loss and hurt. The conflicted feelings of guilt and embarrassment of bad choices, the pain we wrecked on others, we leave buried in our own hearts. We carry these things alone. Which of us has truly known our father, or mother, or sibling, or spouse?

    "The more I read the letters, the more I thought to myself: Why did he write them like a journal...if not for me to find them and give him a voice again, to show the determination, romanticism, and patriotism of a man who once was called un-American?" from A Good American Family by David Maraniss

    David Maraniss had written about other people's stories, from Vince Lombardi and Clemente to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He decided it was time to look into his own father's life. He had "desensitized" himself to what his father Elliott Maraniss had endured "during those years when he was in the crucible, living through what must have been the most tyring and transformative experience of his life."

    In 1952, Elliot Maraniss was brought in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Detroit, Michigan.

    He was a newspaperman, a graduate of the University of Michigan where he had worked on the Daily newspaper and found kindred spirits dedicated to progressive values. Elliott married into a family committed to the perceived virtues of communism. He enlisted to serve in WWII right after Pearl Harbor. But the government was tracking communists, and although an exemplary officer, he was deemed untrustworthy. Instead of seeing action, Elliot was relegated to the Quartermaster Corps, and because of his passion for racial justice and equality, put in charge of a segregated African American unit. He put all his energy into growing the men into a stellar unit. He held an American optimism that people can overcome the obstacles of "race and class, education and geography and bias."

    In the 1930s, communism seemed to be society's best hope for equality and justice, attracting people of progressive ideas. The attraction waned as Stalin took over Russia. Maraniss shares the stories of men whose high ideals brought them to the Communist Party. Some of his U of M friends went to fight in the Spanish Civil War, which was against American law.

    "There are aspects of his thinking during that period that I can't reconcile, and will never reconcile, as hard as I try to figure them out and as much of a trail as he left for me through his writings." from A Good American Family by David Maraniss

    A Good American Family is the story of his father and his generation of progressive idealists during the Red Scare. Maraniss plumbed the records to understand his father and reconcile the man he knew with the man who stood in front of the House Un-American Committee--was he a revolutionary or on "the liberal side of the popular front?"

    Maraniss draws on his father's letters and newspaper articles and obtained access to government files. He tells the stories of the men behind the hearings and the grandmother who was paid to infiltrated the Michigan Communist Party and gather names. The overarching narrative is the story of how the Red scare was born and grew in power. The House Committee hearing were not legal court procedures and those on the stand had no protections as in court.

    What is a 'good American family'? Can we hold and voice personal convictions that some deem threatening and still be considered good citizens? The book is a personal history and a record of the abuse of unbridled power unleashed by fear.

    I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  • Bob H

    This is the author's tribute to his father, Elliott Maraniss, whose life and times were epic, from the Depression-era college society of leftist students (some of his companions went on to serve in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish civil war), to the U.S. Army in WWII -- where he commanded an all-African American company) and on to a postwar career in newspapers, a career blighted by the anti-Communist witch hunts. Elliott Maraniss' travails before the House Un-American Activities Commi

    This is the author's tribute to his father, Elliott Maraniss, whose life and times were epic, from the Depression-era college society of leftist students (some of his companions went on to serve in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish civil war), to the U.S. Army in WWII -- where he commanded an all-African American company) and on to a postwar career in newspapers, a career blighted by the anti-Communist witch hunts. Elliott Maraniss' travails before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and subsequent blacklisting, over his left-wing associations form the center of the book and its climax. The book does mix the HUAC story with flashback chapters on Elliott's previous and subsequent life, but it is perhaps more readable with this context and foreshadowing. It's a tautly-written, touching and dramatic story of a period and a man worth remembering. Highly recommend.

    (Read in advanced-reading copy by Amazon Vine).

  • Mary

    A Good American Family is biographer David Maraniss’ look at a subject very close to his heart: his father, and the Red Scare and resulting blacklisting that embroiled the family in 1952 because of Elliott Maraniss’ past as a Communist Party of America member. Perhaps because of the lack of distance that the author’s intimacy with his father inevitably leads to, Elliott Maraniss never emerged for me as a fully developed character—his motivations and inner life remained a bit murky throughout. Th

    A Good American Family is biographer David Maraniss’ look at a subject very close to his heart: his father, and the Red Scare and resulting blacklisting that embroiled the family in 1952 because of Elliott Maraniss’ past as a Communist Party of America member. Perhaps because of the lack of distance that the author’s intimacy with his father inevitably leads to, Elliott Maraniss never emerged for me as a fully developed character—his motivations and inner life remained a bit murky throughout. This wasn’t as problematic as it would seem, however, because Elliott’s story is woven into the rich tapestry of American life in the first half of the 20th century—Jim Crow laws, lynchings and civil rights struggles in the South; World War I and the Great Depression; the Spanish Civil War and the idealistic Americans who slipped into Spain to fight Franco; isolationism and then World War II; and finally the Cold War—and threaded through with the stories of many fascinating Americans. (I particularly enjoyed the parts involving Arthur Miller, who was a fellow graduate of Elliott’s NYC high school and went on to become his colleague at the University of Michigan Daily News during the heady political days of the 1930s.) These stories were the lifeblood of the book, giving me background and insight into events I had only a cursory understanding of before (such as American involvement in the Spanish Civil War) and making A Good American Family well worth the read.

    Thanks you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for my honest review.

  • Jennifer Warnock

    interesting and well-written...i want to read his biographies of Barak Obama and Bill Clinton now..

  • Jill Meyer

    Author David Maraniss, a noted writer of biographies and other works of non-fiction, tells the story of his family when his father , Elliott, was called before the HUAC in the early 1950's. The reprucussions of being charged with being "un-American" lasted through out his father's life and is being felt by his children. Maraniss tells his family's story, taking no prisoners in his tough accounting of how both his father's family, the Maranisses and his mother's family, the Cummins, have been "g

    Author David Maraniss, a noted writer of biographies and other works of non-fiction, tells the story of his family when his father , Elliott, was called before the HUAC in the early 1950's. The reprucussions of being charged with being "un-American" lasted through out his father's life and is being felt by his children. Maraniss tells his family's story, taking no prisoners in his tough accounting of how both his father's family, the Maranisses and his mother's family, the Cummins, have been "good Americans", while fighting for rights for all Americans.

    It must have been difficult for young David to understand what was happening when his father was charged with Communist sympathies. He had belonged to a leftest group in Detroit - the family lived in Ann Arbor - where the woman running the group was actually a government agent. Her testimony in court was devastating to many of the group's members, including Elliott Maraniss.

    Before WW2, Elliott Maraniss had friends from the University of Michigan who left college and went to fight with the International Brigade in Spain. Several lost their lives. One of the men who went and fought was Bob Cummins, the brother of David's mother, Mary. Activism was important on both sides of David's family.

    My complaint about David Maraniss's book is that it didn't seem to have a center. He flips back and forth between times and people and, frankly, I was often puzzled about where the book was going. I read a lot of histories and memoirs and am usually able to draw connections within a book. That was difficult with "A Good American Family".

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