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Witness [Kindle Edition]

Whittaker Chambers
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)

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Book Description

First published in 1952, Witness was at once a literary effort, a philosophical treatise, and a bestseller. Whittaker Chambers had just participated in America's trial of the century in which Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss, a full – standing member of the political establishment, was a spy for the Soviet Union. This poetic autobiography recounts the famous case, but also reveals much more.

Editorial Reviews Review

First published in 1952, Witness was at once a literary effort, a philosophical treatise, and a bestseller. Whittaker Chambers had just participated in America's trial of the century in which Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss, a full-standing member of the political establishment, was a spy for the Soviet Union. This poetic autobiography recounts the famous case, but also reveals much more. Chambers' worldview--e.g. "e;man without mysticism is a monster"e;--went on to help make political conservatism a national force.


''One of the few indispensable autobiographies ever written by an American and one of the best written too...It deserves to be recognized as a first class achievement.'' --New Centurion

''Confession, history, potboiler - by a man who writes like the literary giant we would know him as, had not Communism got him first.'' --Christopher Caldwell, National Review, 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Century

''Whittaker Chambers has written one of the really significant American autobiographies . . . Penetrating and terrible insights into America in the early twentieth century.'' --Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

''This many-dimensioned apologia, which is also a spy drama, a Quaker testament, and a spiritual autobiography, telescopes the major political and religious conflicts of the century.'' --Booklist

''Written with extraordinary intensity and power.'' --Yale Review

Product Details

  • File Size: 1736 KB
  • Print Length: 836 pages
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing; Reissue edition (July 25, 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0028085JS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,243 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
273 of 281 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hero for any age April 26, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Nearly unknown today, this extraordinary book deserves to be a classic. A gifted writer, Chambers soars whether discussing the world crisis that led him to Communism, his life underground, the trials of the establishment turning against him, and the religious faith that saw him through. Chambers emerges as a profoundly conscience-driven man, one whose human feelings kept him ever so slightly out of step with Communism as a party member, and which caused him repeatedly to consider the humanity of former comrades he ended up having to attack in trying to save his nation.

Whittaker Chambers joined the American Communist Party in the 1920s. He was then recruited into the separate Soviet-run Communist underground. He helped form a secret ring of Communists among New Deal officials who then spied on their own country, passing documents to the Soviets. Chambers led the ring for about three years before his growing disillusion with Communism led him to risk his life by breaking with the party in 1937, at the height of Stalin's purges.

He grew personally close to Alger Hiss, a New Deal lawyer with sterling credentials - including Harvard Law and working as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Hiss served in the Agriculture, State and Justice departments and later became president of the Carnegie Endowment for World Peace. He helped create the United Nations and advised Roosevelt at Yalta, where the ailing president ceded Eastern Europe to the Soviets, condemning it to half a century of Communist domination. Chambers' break with the party, and his later focus on Hiss in his accusations, is made poignant by the intensity of his friendship with Hiss.

Hiss's supporters defended him for decades.
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237 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars one more piece to the political puzzle August 1, 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I taught high-school history for a few years before switching to math then switching to a new career. I remember teaching about the Hiss-Chambers case, but could never remember who was who and like a sensationalist journalist, mostly just concentrated on the story of the microfilm Chambers had hidden in his pumpkin.
I'm glad I finally got around to reading the story, and will briefly share my impression here.
Firstly, Chambers was an excellent writer. The book flows well, is hard to put down, and Chambers led a fairly interesting life. Probably the least interesting was his time as a spy, and the second least interesting was the case itself.
The second thing I found impressive, and indeed the pivot on which the book turned, was the account of his metamorphisis from ardent communist true-believer to ardent anti-communist. From godless to God-filled is how one might sum it up, but the changes were subtle, and often described in a kind of echo. "I heard someone screaming in the night"- sums it up figuratively if not literally for him, knowing that the screams were due to the grinding of a soul under the gears of the communist-soviet machinery.
Thirdly the book has a quiet humor mixed in with the tragic melancholy of Chamber's ironic life. It's not laugh-out-loud funny by any stretch, no one has any hilarious Stalin anecdotes or anything, but the humor is there, and it provides an undercurrent to carry the reader through the drier places until the end.
Finally I was amazed at the similarity with the left-right struggle of today.
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170 of 184 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important Piece Of American History May 21, 2004
It is sad but true that a large portion of young Americans--even many with college degrees--probably have no idea who Whitaker Chambers was. Indeed, numerous conservatives likely know the name only as belonging to someone who was anti-communist but would be unable to provide more than vague generalities on his life and accomplishments.
Ann Coulter helped rectify this unfortunate development last year with the publication of her mega-bestseller "Slander". Her trenchant exploration of twentieth century communism and the unbridled invective hurled against those who dared to oppose the murderous ideology introduced Chambers to a whole new generation. In interviews she has often stated that his autobiography Witness is one of the absolute-must reads for conservatives and an important title for all students of American history.
As someone whose knowledge of Alger Hiss' nemesis was lacking, I decide to follow the sapient blonde's advice and picked up a copy of the 800-page memoir. I now second Miss Coulter's call; Witness is a moving and educational read. The extent to which communists infiltrated the United States Government in pre-World War days is frightening both in its scope and in the fact that today few Americans appreciate just how serious actual security breaches were. Chambers was well-qualified to address the magnitude of the red threat because for more than a decade he was a part of the menace. As a committed fellow traveler, he hobnobbed in all the right (left?) circles. So powerful was the communist structure within our nation that when he eventually grew disillusioned and abandoned the atheistic dead end, he firmly believed that he was "leaving the wining world for the losing world.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book. Every American of all political persuasions should ...
Great book. Every American of all political persuasions should read this book. Whittaker Chambers was able to capture what it was like coming of age during a time of strife, making... Read more
Published 5 days ago by S. Pritikin
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great Book changed the world
Published 7 days ago by Charles
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Enjoying this book on a former Communist USA Party member.
Published 15 days ago by Sharon 51
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 Thumbs Up, Way Up!
I recently finished reading this book and can enthusiastically state that I enjoyed all of its 800 pages - the story, the use of the English language and the message are truly... Read more
Published 21 days ago by BigMac
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 25 days ago by DR
5.0 out of 5 stars As important to know as the Constitution itself.
John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy considered Whittaker Chambers to be an American hero. If you want to understand today's insane politics, read this book. Read more
Published 28 days ago by JT
5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone interested in WWII, and post WWII, U.S. intellectual history...
This book is a must read for anyone interested in how deeply Communist agents had infiltrated the U.S. Government during and after WWII. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Adolph Evangelista
5.0 out of 5 stars Far more compelling and frightening than anything Stephen King ever...
I live in a soon to be post-Christian nation where a higher and higher percentage of people biologically reach adulthood but mentally and emotionally never get past the age of 13... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A VALUABLE HISTORY LESSON
I read this book twice over the years and gave this copy to a friend. Mr. Chambers writes prose like poetry and I never wanted the book to end. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Shonsaya Owen
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow
I was regularly daunted by the length of this book, just looking at it I assumed that it was burdensome, tiresome, arduous. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Benjamin Wetmore
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More About the Author

Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961) was a controversial literary and political figure of the 20th Century.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chambers grew up in Lynbrook, NY, and studied at Columbia University. In 1925, he became a communist, editing the _Daily Worker_ newspaper and _New Masses_ magazine. He joined the Soviet underground (1932), defected during the Great Purge (1938), and hid with his family for a year. He joined _TIME_ magazine, where he rose to become a senior editor (1939-1948). In August 1948 under subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), he named former Federal officials as part of a Washington-based network. By September 1948, only Alger Hiss continued to deny those allegations. During legal proceedings, Chambers brought forth evidence (e.g., the "Pumpkin Papers") that led to Hiss's indictment, trial, and conviction (1948-1950). After the Hiss Case, he joined the editorial board of nascent _National Review_ (1957-1959).

Chambers's memoir _Witness_ (1952) was a best-seller, serialized in the _Saturday Evening Post_ and _Readers Digest_ and read aloud by the author on NBC radio. His wife published further essays as _Cold Friday_ (1964). Others have published his writings and articles: _Odyssey of a Friend_ (1969), _Ghosts on the Roof_ (1989), and _Notes from the Underground_ (1997). To support himself while both communist and defector, the polyglot Chambers translated more than a dozen books from German and French (1928-1939), including _Bambi_ (1928).

President Ronald Reagan awarded Chambers the Medal of Freedom (1984) and added the Whittaker Chambers Farm to the National Register (1988).

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