... 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.
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.
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.
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.