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Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

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Nearly half a century after giving the testimony that sent Alger Hiss to prison, Whittaker Chambers remains among the most controversial of 20-century Americans, hated by many, revered by others. Whittaker Chambers is the first biography of this complex and enigmatic figure. Drawing on dozens of interviews and on materials from 40 archives in the United States and abroad -- including still-classified KGB dossiers -- Sam Tanenhaus traces the remarkable journey that led Chambers from a sleepy Long Island village to...
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1997 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 638 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade. Biography; Biography & ... Autobiography; Hiss, Alger; Historical; History; Non-Fiction; Spies; United Read more Show Less

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1997 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 638 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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1997 Hard cover New. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 638 p. Contains: Illustrations.

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Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

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Overview

Nearly half a century after giving the testimony that sent Alger Hiss to prison, Whittaker Chambers remains among the most controversial of 20-century Americans, hated by many, revered by others. Whittaker Chambers is the first biography of this complex and enigmatic figure. Drawing on dozens of interviews and on materials from 40 archives in the United States and abroad -- including still-classified KGB dossiers -- Sam Tanenhaus traces the remarkable journey that led Chambers from a sleepy Long Island village to center stage in America's greatest political trial and then, in his last years, to a unique role as the godfather of post-war conservatism. Whittaker Chambers is rich in startling new information about every phase of its subject's varied life: his days as New York's 'hottest literary Bolshevik'; his years as a Communist agent and then defector, hunted by the KGB; his conversion to Quakerism; his secret sexual turmoil; his turbulent decade at Time, where he rose from the obscurity of the book-review page to transform the magazine into an oracle of apocalyptic anti-Communism.

But all this was merely a prelude to the memorable events that began in August 1948, when Chambers was summoned by a Congressional committee to testify about his past as a Communist agent. Reluctantly, he divulged his key part in a spy ring that had penetrated the most sensitive areas of the U.S. government, including the State Department, where one of his accomplices, Alger Hiss, had risen to a senior position. Chamber's allegations, and Hiss' prompt, emphatic denial, held the nation spellbound -- and initiated a drama that changed the face of America. Drawing on an array of new sources, including transcripts of secret HUAC testimony, Whittaker Chambers goes far beyond all previous accounts of the Hiss case, re-creating its improbable twists and turns, and disentangling the motives that propelled a vivid cast of characters in unpredictable directions.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A life of the man who brought down Alger Hiss, from his years as a Soviet agent to his anti-Communist crusade after defection.
Kirkus Reviews
A sympathetic full-length portrait of a man best known for making Alger Hiss and Richard Nixon famous. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers was a self-confessed spy for the Soviet Union turned rabid anti-Communist. Called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he named names, leading two years later to the sensational perjury conviction of Hiss, an esteemed diplomat. Hiss died still protesting his innocence, and with his defenders and detractors still accusing Chambers of perfidy or defending him as a hero of the Cold War. For all the rich nuances of this biography, Tanenhaus belongs to the latter camp, matter-of-factly declaring Hiss guilty in a footnote early in this chronicle. Tanenhaus depicts Chambers as a deeply flawed but brilliant and tragic figure, who proved to be a more steadfast idealist than most of the people around him—including Senator Joseph McCarthy and young congressman Nixon, both of whom shamelessly exploited the Hiss case to advance their careers. Tanenhaus seeks the logic in Chambers's odyssey from accomplice to accuser, from his troubled home on Long Island to his star turns in the Communist Party, at Time magazine, on the witness stand, and, finally, as a guru in the 1950s to the then-fledgling neoconservative movement. To Tanenhaus, the ironic—but still logical—denouement to Chambers' life was his 1959 resignation from the staff of William F. Buckley's National Review, in disagreement over the magazine's hard-line stance against Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. Tanenhaus writes well and sometimes brilliantly in arguing that Chambers was far more than a supporting actor to McCarthyism and the Cold War. However, theauthor introduces no new evidence likely to change minds and, by attempting to put Chambers on a pedestal, has inevitably exposed himself and his subject as targets.Expect this book to stoke fires already burning for nearly half a century.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780394585598
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/18/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 638
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.98 (d)

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