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The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism (Harvard Historical Studies) Hardcover – March 31, 2009
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Michael Kimmage is an old-fashioned intellectual historian, and I mean that as a compliment. What is more, he is a real writer. His extraordinary book is one of the few studies of the making of Cold War liberalism that is as alive to personality and literary quality as to politics. He provides a fuller and fairer analysis of both men's work, with splendid comparative comments, than I have read anywhere else. (Michael Kazin, Georgetown University)
Indispensable to anyone who wants to understand the strands of modern American conservative thought, this book is at once exciting, page-turning history and a valuable contribution to the historical process that it documents. Kimmage compellingly traces how Whittaker Chambers and Lionel Trilling, starting out in the same place in the 1920s, take political ideas in equally influential, widely divergent, directions. (Ruth Wisse, Harvard University)
Michael Kimmage has written a fascinating account of a most unlikely friendship between two brilliant Columbia University undergraduates in the 1920s, which devolved into a wary acquaintanceship in subsequent decades. Whittaker Chambers became the model for the central figure of the ex-Communist agent in Lionel Trilling's only novel, which eerily forecast the Alger Hiss case. Both were to become exemplars, in very different ways, of the conservative turn which overtook so many former radicals in the postwar world, interpreted here with sophistication and insight. (Nathan Glazer)
The reader...is very well served by this comprehensive account of the political and intellectual life of an era that cannot be forgotten, complete with the Alger Hiss trial that shattered the comfortable harmony the country had reached. The book is a prodigious effort, and one that should act as a guide for those too young to remember. (Sol Schindler Washington Times 2009-04-19)
[An] important debut book [by] Michael Kimmage--a young scholar who promises to become one of America's preeminent intellectual historians. (Ronald Radosh National Review 2009-05-25)
What [Kimmage] depicts in this serious but highly accessible book is the tale of two men who were classmates and near contemporaries and, while pursuing radically different paths, reached similar philosophical conclusions that had an equally significant influence on U.S. political thought and domestic and foreign policy...Kimmage is jubilantly intelligent and convincing in his arguments...What Kimmage has done is record the ideological background to a much grander sociological, political and emotional awakening. He does it cleverly and objectively. (Michael Coren National Post 2009-05-16)
A compelling read that takes us back to the New Deal era...Kimmage is at his best when showing how both men's passions led them to and from communism. (Ron Capshaw New York Post 2009-05-17)
What Kimmage has done is record the ideological background to a much grander sociological, political and emotional awakening. He does it cleverly and objectively. (Michael Coren Edmonton Journal 2009-05-31)
Alongside William F. Buckley Jr., Chambers can be seen as a forefather of the conservative movement that would ultimately produce the age of Reagan and Bush...Ultimately, Chambers was a propagandist and Trilling a professor. In the 1930s while Chambers was ferrying secret documents to Soviet agents in Washington, Trilling was writing a book on Matthew Arnold. Chambers reduced his vision of communism to a single, great conspiracy, while the whole purpose of Trilling's life was to emphasize ambivalence, complexity, and nuance. Kimmage recounts these distinctions with subtlety...Thoughtful, erudite, and engaging. (Alex Goodall Literary Review 2009-07-01)
Astonishing. It's a masterpiece in the field of intellectual history. (Jeffrey Hart American Conservative 2009-07-15)
About the Author
Michael Kimmage is Associate Professor of History, Catholic University of America.
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By the end of Kimmage's work, I felt so connected with these two men and the professional, intellectual, and spiritual challenges that they both faced. While I will admit that sometimes it seems that the thesis is a bit stretched (which one could say about a lot of things) it overall explains much of the mid-twentieth century struggles intellectuals faced in the growing threat of the Soviet Union and The Cold War. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in these issues, as well as just generally the New York Intellectuals and the New Right.