Most of us who have written about Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy recently--and that's quite a crowd--agree that the nationally televised Army-McCarthy hearings were an important reason for the turn of public opinion against McCarthy in the middle of 1954. Viewers saw McCarthy live, an arrogant, bad-mannered bully, and his standing in the polls began to slip.

Equally important was the growing, incredible realization that McCarthy was now attacking Republicans, and that the coddler of Communists in government now was the beloved President Eisenhower, not the despised Harry Truman.

These were the developments that conditioned public opinion and made it possible for the Republican moderates in the Senate to begin the process that led to the censure of McCarthy and nullified him as a political force for all time.

Both of these developments are at work in this insider's account of the Army-McCarthy controversy by John G. Adams, the counsel for the Army who, on camera and off, acted as the attorney for Army personnel accused by McCarthy. New information about this confused struggle is welcome, and Adams has made a valuable contribution to our understanding of this affair. But what this book tells most vividly is not about McCarthy, whose method of interrogation and intimidation is already well documented, but about the timidity and stupidity and duplicity of Adams' superiors in the Eisenhower administration.

Finally, this book is an apology for the inadequacy of Adams' own efforts to resist the demands of McCarthy and his aide, Roy Cohn. Adams was not exactly a hero of the fight against McCarthy, and he does not pretend he was. One almost wishes he were not so painfully honest.

Adams was 41 when he accepted appointment as counsel to Robert T. Stevens, a Yale man and the heir to one of the world's largest textile companies, who had been rewarded for his preconvention campaign support of Eisenhower by being appointed secretary of the Army. He was known for his dislike of organized labor and communism.

Stevens is the real villain of Adams' book.

Adams was a regular Republican and a career government attorney. He took the job rather than a similar one with the U.S. Information Agency because he wanted to stay out of trouble; McCarthy was attacking the USIA. Obviously, he made the wrong choice.

Starting with McCarthy's "investigation" of Communists at Fort Monmouth, N.J. (there weren't any), through the hearings, the pattern was the same. Stevens would ask Adams how to reply to McCarthy's charges, and when McCarthy put on a show of anger, Stevens would blame Adams and apologize to McCarthy. He bought McCarthy steaks and double Manhattans, took him to his private club and flew him around in an Army plane.

As always, appeasement spurred McCarthy on.

Meanwhile, G. David Schine, another McCarthy aide, had been drafted by the Army, and Cohn, backed by McCarthy, was pressing Stevens and Adams for special privileges for Pvt. Schine, some of which Stevens granted. When the Army failed to do enough for Schine, McCarthy demanded the names of members of Army loyalty boards so he could go after those who had "cleared Communists."

This, Adams decided, would destroy the government's security system. He told loyalty board members to ignore McCarthy's subpoenas, and he went to the White House to tell the president's aides what McCarthy was doing. Sherman Adams, Eisenhower's chief of staff, told John Adams to keep a record of everything, and this turned out to be important advice.

McCarthy forgot all about the loyalty boards when he discovered Maj. Irving Peress, who became famous as the "pink Army dentist." Although Peress had once refused to answer questions about his political beliefs, he had been promoted from captain as part of a blanket promotion for all Army medical officers. "Who Promoted Peress?" became McCarthy's last battle cry.

Adams argued with McCarthy, telling him that no one had promoted Peress except Congress itself, but McCarthy insisted that it was a Communist conspiracy. He called up Peress' superior officer, Brig. Gen. Ralph Zwicker, and after Zwicker failed to answer questions to McCarthy's satisfaction, told the general he did not have "the brains of a 5 year old" and that he was "not fit to wear the uniform."

These comments disturbed people in the Defense Department, and Stevens, who alternated between defiance and servility in his relations with McCarthy, issued an order that Zwicker not appear further before McCarthy's committee. Stevens became an instant hero, praised by the media, and congratulatory messages poured in.

Stevens had said he, instead of Zwicker, would appear before McCarthy, but the Republican leadership wanted to prevent this. Stevens and Adams were called to a meeting in the office of Vice President Nixon at which the policy of "peace at any price" was reaffirmed. The upshot of the meeting was that Sen. Everett Dirksen, who said he was McCarthy's best friend, said he would persuade McCarthy to stop abusing the Army and to fire Roy Cohn.

Instead, he trapped poor Stevens.

The next day Adams found out that Stevens had slipped off for a "secret lunch" with the Republican members of McCarthy's committee. This was the famous "chicken lunch" at which Stevens, pressed by McCarthy, Dirksen and Sen. Karl Earl Mundt of South Dakota, signed a "memo of understanding" that said that in return for canceling that week's hearing, Stevens would guarantee that Zwicker would appear before McCarthy and that McCarthy was free to investigate loyalty boards.

Back at the Defense Department, Stevens claimed this as a victory, while other officials berated him. The argument ended when news of McCarthy's statement to the press arrived. "Stevens," said McCarthy, "could not have surrendered more abjectly if he had gotten down on his knees." Stevens burst into tears.

In the end, it was Adams' diary, his notes on the demands for special treatment for Schine, that precipitated the final showdown before the television cameras. Adams had shown this document to several reporters on a "confidential" basis, and columnist Joseph Alsop had used some of the information in a column. Thereupon Fred Seaton, assistant secretary of Defense, who said he was acting on "White House orders," went to Adams' office and carried off every copy of the diary.

Adams never got the diaries back, and later, when McCarthy began direct attacks against him, he sorely missed that record. But a year later, when he was saying goodbye to his colleagues in the Army counselor's office, one of them handed him an envelope containing the whole set of documents. In a footnote, Adams says these papers "have been the basis for much this narrative." In other words, without these papers, he could not have written this book. And that would have been too bad.