ETHEL ROSENBERG: Beyond the Myths by Ilene Philipson

ETHEL ROSENBERG: Beyond the Myths

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A detailed new look at the short and tragic life of Ethel Rosenberg, who, with her husband, Julius, was executed 35 years ago on charges of plotting to give the secret of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union--charges that have, over the years, remained open to question. Philipson's interpretation is aided by recently released materials from FBI files, as well as by interviews with Ethel's psychiatrist, friends, and family. What she depicts is an unexceptional life, working-class in its roots, never able to lift out of the cycle of daily struggle, just as--except for a few months in a D.C. job--it never was lived outside of the confines of Lower Manhattan. But despite the supposed wealth of new materials, Philipson fails to offer any major new insights into Ethel's life. (For instance, while discussing Ethel's courtship with Julius, the author expends three full pages on the new liberality of sexual ethics in Ethel's circle, only to express ignorance of Ethel's premarital experience.) In the end, Philipson fails to venture a guess as to the validity of the jury's ""guilty"" verdict, choosing instead to incriminate others--Judge Kaufman, Herbert Brownell, President Eisenhower--for not being lenient. The reader is left with the assumption that the Rosenbergs were victims, not of their own duplicity, but of their times (even though the current Chief Justice, Rehnquist, is represented in a memo in which he wrote: ""It is too bad that drawing and quartering has been abolished""). A good job of extracting much out of a simple life, but it contributes little new to the historical argument.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1988
Publisher: Watts