FRED ASTAIRE MEETS THE SAD-SACK DOSTOYEVSKIAN PUDGE

Washington, 1948: John Kennedy and Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and Joe McCarthy and all the others were back from their war. It had shown them the world, and an apocalypse or two, and the possibilities of the new global power that would become the stuff of their careers, their medium. The new cold war was the generation's moment, its opportunity. The veterans worked the capital--a southern town enlarged to world power and wired with new political electricity--and searched for their way up.

We know the outcome of their stories now. One, Joe McCarthy of Appleton, Wisconsin, would turn into a household...

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