Whittaker Chambers: A Biography

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Random House, 1997 - Biography & Autobiography - 638 pages
34 Reviews
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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Review: Whittaker Chambers

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Tanenhaus shows Chambers to be a mess, but he does so sympathetically in the beginning and then, as the book proceeds to the trial and beyond, heroically. Nixon comes off as only he could and Hiss as ... Read full review

Review: Whittaker Chambers

User Review  - Goodreads

Had forgotten Nixon was so involved in the Hiss case. A good read and primer for the McCarthy years. Read full review


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About the author (1997)

Biographer and American history scholar Sam Tanenhaus has written such books as Old Greenwich Village, Season of Power, Louis Armstrong: Biography of a Musician, and Whittaker Chamers: A Biography. This last book was nominated for the National Book Award in Nonfiction and the Pulitzer Prize in Biography.

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