"Intelligent, handsome, articulate and idealistic" are the words author Dominic Sandbrook uses to describe
Eugene McCarthy – a man, Sandbrook believes, was capable of great things but who "demonstrably failed
to fulfill his true political potential." McCarthy's political life, rather than personal life, is the
focus of Sandbrook's book, which begins by presenting a picture of McCarthy's life as a child.
Eugene McCarthy grew up during the Depression in a small town in Minnesota that had the
highest concentration of German Catholics in the state. Social life in his small town centered
on the church and taverns, and the church had a lasting influence on McCarthy. According
to Sandbrook, Catholicism shaped McCarthy's character and opinions throughout his life – both as
a student and as a politician. Taught by Benedictine monks, McCarthy appreciated intellectually
stimulating situations, and he eagerly accepted a college teaching position after having taught for a
few years in small, rural communities where he saw little or no opportunity for advancement.
When World War II returning veterans caused college enrollments to mushroom, McCarthy was
offered a position at the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. Academia seemed a
natural fit until a faculty colleague encouraged him to enter politics to fight the spread
Young intellectuals related to McCarthy's beliefs and helped propel him through his early
campaigns and elections. McCarthy began his political career when he ran for Congress in 1948,
when a new liberalism was taking shape in the United States in an attempt to keep intact the
moral spirit of Roosevelt's New Deal programs As a young Congressman, McCarthy was
interested in bettering the plight of the migrant workers, an interest that continued throughout his
tenure in the Senate, and he also wanted to stop the growth of Communism in America.
Sandbrook also explains how he believes McCarthy caused himself numerous problems with his
independent, detached, and cynical personality. According to Sandbrook, McCarthy wanted to
be the first Catholic President, and the book sheds light on how John Kennedy's nomination and
election transformed McCarthy's political life . McCarthy's political relationships with Lyndon B.
Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, and Robert Kennedy are also presented to support Sandbrook's
belief that McCarthy damaged his own reputation as he was rising into leadership of the
Democratic Party. McCarthy's opposition to Lyndon Johnson's Viet Nam policies provided
much of the impetus for his first race for the Presidency, and Sandbrook presents the issues as
they related to Congress, the American youth, and the politically ambitious McCarthy.
Eugene McCarthy is a "must read" because it presents a good discussion of grass roots politics and the
inner workings of the Democratic Party during McCarthy's political life. Sandbrook presents an
excellent account of the rising tide and ultimate fall of the liberalism that McCarthy knew - and
apparently was unaware of or was unable or unwilling to accept in his quest for a Presidential
nomination. Sandbrook compares and contrasts each campaign in which McCarthy hoped to be
nominated by his party for the Presidency as well as McCarthy's attitudes toward his party's
candidate during the general election campaigns. McCarthy is a story of a time of historically
important political change and a man who failed to adapt his political views to conform to the
desires of his constituency. McCarthy is well-written, well-documented, and well worth reading.