Review of ‘The Troubled Air’

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In the 1950s, the U.S. was reeling under the onslaught of Senator Joseph ‘Tail Gunner Joe’ McCarthy’s ‘lists’ of communists and communist sympathizers in government, and the entertainment industry maintained blacklists of artists and executives suspected of being fellow travelers. Many people, on the basis of nothing more than accusations, were deprived of their livelihoods or driven to exile or suicide.

In this troubled time, Clement Archer was the director of a popular radio show. His producer ordered him to fire five of his top performers because of a threat by a right-wing rag to publish the allegations if they were not dismissed. Archer finds himself caught between the practical path—obey and keep his job—and following his core beliefs of fairness and justice.

The Troubled Air by the late Irwin Shaw follows Archer on his torturous journey of self-discovery and confrontation, showing how cowardice can lead to betrayal, and how a determined few can intimidate the multitudes through bullying, lying, and coercion. Though fiction, it contains more than a grain of truth, and is worthwhile reading in our currently polarized political climate.

Shaw writes with the knowledge of someone who experienced the travails of the ‘Red Scare’ years. Falsely accused of being a member of the Communist Party in 1951, Shaw left his native land and lived abroad until his death in the 1980s. Unlike many victims of the witch hunts of the era, he was able at least to rebuild his career, going on to produce many outstanding works.

Anyone who wants to understand the human cost of political intimidation should read this book.

Five stars.

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