Maraniss has used his prodigious research skills to produce a story that leaves one aching with its poignancy, its finely wrought sense of what was lost, both in his home and in our nation. It is at the same time a book that, like his family, never gives in to self-pity but remains remarkably balanced, forthright and unwavering in its search for the truth ... This is, in the end, a fascinating confluence of America, and if the story drags in places—we don’t really need to know that there were 17,000 varieties of American apple by 1905—more often one is bowled over by the vibrancy of that vanished nation.
... both a social and a family history, enlivened by family letters and other personal artifacts ... Always the objective reporter, Maraniss humanizes his father’s inquisitors by probing deeply into their backgrounds to ferret out both their virtues and flaws.
... the tale that emerges is fascinating ... Maraniss includes an absorbing account of the fighting in Spain...On this and other topics, he builds a thorough foundation, allowing the reader to fully appreciate the motivations of the leftist Americans who eventually would be caught in the net of McCarthyism and the House Committee on Un-American Activities ... In recounting his family saga, David Maraniss has wisely followed the precept his father delivered to the House Un-American Activities Committee: 'To properly measure a man’s Americanism you must know the whole pattern of a life' ... Maraniss presents the whole pattern of a generation of young, idealistic Americans — and, ultimately, of one brave and stubborn man who refused to give up his belief in what America stands for.
The son does not make excuses for his parents' youthful devotion to communism. He respects their commitment to equality and free speech, but writes that he and his siblings are 'confounded' by their parents' blindness to the brutality of the Soviet regime and their continued allegiance to the party following the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact ... has an unexpectedly lyrical sweep as it moves from Room 740 to biography and history and back again. The 'wheel' of Maraniss' Author's Note is ultimately a deeply patriotic portrait of the first half of the 20th century, a prose poem to America's ideals.
Although in hindsight it is easy to condemn those who perpetrated the Red Scare and vehemently chased after suspected Communists, David Maraniss brings a clear eye and balanced reporting to his book. His parents were not perfect, nor were their accusers perfect villains. Most were Americans pursuing what they believed was truthful and moral ... heds light and empathy on a troublesome period of national history that shows how flawed, dysfunctional and problematic this country can be. In doing so, it spotlights the affliction and misfortune that can happen to a single family.
A Good American Family is an empathetic, though not entirely successful, effort to understand why his parents and uncle were drawn to communism in the 1930s and then why, nearly two decades later, they fell victim to a frenzied government witch hunt that targeted them because of these convictions ... such questions are salient today, when the evident exhaustion of conventional politics may once again bring more radical alternatives, whether on the left or the right, into play ... Elliott comes across as bland. While very much the 'good American' of Maraniss’s title, he was not a terribly compelling personality. Reading about the zealots who sought to destroy Elliott’s life, one wishes that Maraniss had provided a more convincing explanation for why his father chose to follow the course he did ... Maraniss never satisfactorily explains why they found themselves drawn to communism. Of the motives of Elliott’s persecutors, we learn far more: Money, ambition, partisanship, and even boredom, in Baldwin’s case, played a role. These are motives many readers can understand; Elliott’s remain something of a mystery.
Maraniss paints an affecting if somewhat scattershot portrait ... The younger Maraniss’ affection and admiration for his father are palpable, though tinged with queasiness over what he perceives as naïveté regarding the Soviet system ... Maraniss falls into a common trap of family biographers. He both over- and underestimates his father. It would also have been good to learn more about how Maraniss’ mother coped with raising a family despite constant upheaval. Overall, this is a beautifully realized account of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances and of how easily 'normal' life can be disrupted by a powerful megalomaniac with a dangerous political agenda.
There is an important lesson from this poignant and inspiring biography ... Throughout his ordeal, Elliott never lost faith in America. His eventual vindication overcame the political fear and distortion prevalent in the 1950s. At this moment in our history, viewing his life through the words of his son can provide us with optimism for the future.
Maraniss has produced a book which transforms personal history into a rich and penetrating exploration of the complexities of American life and culture that speaks to our time, too ... Maraniss may have only theories about the evolution of his parents’ political beliefs, but in A Good American Family, he makes a strong case for the necessity of thoughtfulness, careful reflection and learning how to live at peace with the contradictions of this American life.
...a riveting account of what disloyalty charges did to families in the McCarthy era, a profound meditation on what it means to be ‘un-American,’ and a sobering example of the corrosive effects of tagging journalists as ‘enemies of the people.
Maraniss weaves in insightful studies of other figures in the post-war Red Scare ... Clear-eyed and empathetic, Maraniss’s engrossing portrait of a patriotic, baseball-loving red reveals the complex human motivations underneath the era’s clashing dogmas.
Mr. Maraniss asks, was his father indeed 'un-American'? This book is an earnest search for the answer to that question ... On certain topics, Mr. Maraniss reveals a soft streak that allows him to go easy on communist activities ... Did anything justify Elliott’s youthful communist faith ... Why, David Maraniss asks, did his father hold onto it into the 1950s? He answers that it was his father’s 'profound dislike for right-wing anticommunists.' He does not seem to realize that there were many left-wing and liberal anticommunists, and that one did not have to support the McCarthyites to oppose communism. There was no either-or choice that one was forced to make. Despite his sometimes sentimental leftism, David Maraniss has written a thoughtful, poignant and historically valuable story of the Red Scare of the 1950s as experienced by one American family.
Maraniss creates a sensitive portrait of a man who was 'young and brilliant and searching for meaning'; whose leftist political perspective was never at odds with his patriotism; and whose optimism never failed him as he confronted considerable professional obstacles ... A cleareyed, highly personal view of a dark chapter in American history.