Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

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by Sam Tanenhaus
     
 

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Whittaker Chambers is the first biography of this complex and enigmatic figure. Drawing on dozens of interviews and on materials from forty archives in the United States and abroad--including still-classified KGB dossiers--Tanenhaus traces the remarkable journey that led Chambers from a sleepy Long Island village to center stage in America's greatest political

Overview

Whittaker Chambers is the first biography of this complex and enigmatic figure. Drawing on dozens of interviews and on materials from forty archives in the United States and abroad--including still-classified KGB dossiers--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. This biography is rich in startling new information about Chambers's 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 magazine, 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 a prelude to the memorable events that began in August 1948, when Chambers testified against Alger Hiss in the spy case that changed America. Whittaker Chambers goes far beyond all previous accounts of the Hiss case, re-creating its improbably twists and turns, and disentangling the motives that propelled a vivid cast of characters in unpredictable directions.

A rare conjunction of exacting scholarship and narrative art, Whittaker Chambers is a vivid tapestry of 20th century history.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307789266
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/20/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
656
Sales rank:
267,366
File size:
4 MB

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Whittaker Chambers: A Biography (Modern Library Series) 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The byrds once wrote a song with the line; "Find the cost of freedom". Whittaker Chambers found the cost of freedom was total. This is the remarkable story of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th Century rivetingly told by a master storyteller. It is the story of redemption and voluntary martyrdom. Having chosen the Communist lie of the 1920's and 30's, Chambers decended into the Communist underground as a spy and courier. Chambers slowly realizes the greatness of his error and the almost impossible path back to salvation. His salvation required him to become an informer, reviled and despised. A self confessed spy, liar and (based upon the mores of the 40"S) a homosexual. In the face of all this he tries to convince America of his truth and help route out the espionage network he helped establish. One of the most famous spy stories of the twentieth century, it also unfortunately, helped lay the ground work for the excesses of McCarthy and his witchhunt. This is not an easy story and it split America with a force that reminds one of the Dreyfus case. Stranger than any fiction this book will keep you reading and thinking from beginning to end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not only is this book one of the strongest biographies I've encountered, its subject is a fascinating, complex, intruiging, highly intellectual character whose life's events now embody an infamous period of American history. I'm not sure what is more compelling -- the events of (and that led to) the Hiss trial, or the profound cerebral hunger and philosophical searchings that consumed Whittaker Chambers.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A terrific all-American tale of a brilliant man besieged by all the demons of his era.Want to know how one could become a communist in the USA in the 1930's? Read this book! Learn about real cloak and dagger affairs,nasty mid-century politics,the life of an intellectual turned communist turned conservative.Treachery and lies on the highest level.And Mr Chambers just wanted to till the fields of his farm at the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Detailed history of Chamber's passage from radical to realist. Page turning read! THis is important history that needs to be understood especially by the youth of the twenty first century. Progressives by any other name are a corrosive threat to society
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago