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Whittaker Chambers

A Biography

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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 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.

From Publishers Weekly

Feb 02, 1997 – One of the strangest political martyrs was the disheveled, overweight, once-bohemian defector from communism Whittaker Chambers, the nemesis of Alger Hiss. A sterling State Department intellectual, Hiss by 1948 was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Then Chambers, a disillusioned former Soviet courier who had turned his writing flair into an editorship at Time, charged that Hiss had been an agent for Moscow since the early 1930s. In a retrial after a hung jury, Hiss was convicted of perjury in 1950. Tanenhaus takes the position that Chambers's accusation was thereby validated. The case made a national figure of House Un-American Activities Committee member Richard Nixon and lent credibility to the Reds-everywhere charges by a reckless senator, Joseph McCarthy. Hiss spent almost four years in prison, Nixon and McCarthy prospered for a time and Chambers, suddenly jobless, wrote his anguished memoir, Witness. He contended that even at the risk of self-destruction, it was important to examine why some of the best and brightest of the interwar years had embraced communism, why some persisted in self-deception and disloyalty and why others broke ranks and recanted. Tanenhaus (Literature Unbound) persuasively and movingly examines such double lives of these communists, lives which were driven by a perverse idealism that functioned almost as a new religion. Only when the Cold War exposed Soviet infiltration into policy-making levels of government and the wartime snatching of atomic secrets did politically orchestrated paranoia begin in the U.S. The Washington apparatus served by Chambers had been of little practical use to the Soviets, but when he saw it anew as the worm in the goodly apple, he committed what Arthur Koestler would admiringly call "moral suicide" to confront Hiss and his like with the bankruptcy of their illusions. To some a toweringly humane hero, Chambers nonetheless made McCarthyism possible, and--posthumously, as he died in 1961--made Nixon President. Here a tarnished saint, Whittaker Chambers is a John le Carre figure in the extreme. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC dual main selection; History Book Club selection. FYI: The 92-year-old Alger Hiss died in Manhattan this past November 15.
Whittaker Chambers
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  • $12.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Biographies & Memoirs
  • Published: Feb 18, 1997
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 656 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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