WHITTAKER CHAMBERS by Sam Tanenhaus

WHITTAKER CHAMBERS

A Biography
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 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 last month, 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, freelance journalist 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's 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, the author 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. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen) (History Book Club selection)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-394-58559-3
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1996




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