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Witness Paperback – August 1, 1987
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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.
Whittaker Chambers has written one of the really significant American autobiographies...penetrating and terrible insights into America in the early twentieth century. -- Arthur Schlesingr, Jr.
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The best feature of the book, however, is Mr. Chambers discussion of how and why he turned to communism as the only possible solution to the woes of the world. He was an exceptionally intelligent man, and in his view, there was no other possible choice. In a word, despair led him to believe that communism was the best vehicle to solve the problems of mankind. In fairly short order (10 years), he realized that once communists were in power, they tended to lean heavily on the 'ends justify the means' approach as millions starved or were executed (or worked to death). He later turned to Biblical Christianity as the best hope for mankind, fully aware that there are no easy solutions to the dilemma of existence.
This book did have an influence on my understanding of history and on how decisions are made. It a very real sense, it impacted my life.
This book is normally classified as a political book, and it certainly revolves around politics, but it is much more. It is a rich, inspiring memoir of repentance and hope steadfastly maintained in the face of seemingly hopeless circumstances. In short, it is a masterwork of the 20th century.
Many of the Communist intellectuals of the 30's shared Chambers disenchantment with the Party. The Italian novelist Ignazio Silone and the great Arthur Koestler edited a very informative work on the subject "The God that Failed". But no other work matched the personal description of Chambers. The book deals not so much with the two trials of Alger Hiss on a perjury indictment and concentrates more on Chambers's life, up to 1950, and his testimony and Hiss's statements before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, and the Manhattan Grand Jury which indicted Hiss.
Of course some readers will have a negative view of the work of the Committee, and one of the heroes of the book Richard Nixon(!!), but I urge them to put that aside and read this book. There really was serious Communist infiltration of the American Government and Hiss really was guilty. B I've always been a staunch anti Communist and Chambers's testimony was the beginning of the end for the Soviet "apparatus" in the US. Nevertheless, his description of the party faithful of his era actually led me to develop a grudging respect for the dedication and personal sacrifices which they made in furtherance of their misguided beliefs. The reader must remember that the World looked very different in the 1930s. Chambers came to this realization in 1938. This led him to realize that he had a moral obligation to denounce those of his former comrades who were still working against his Country. Finally, much of what Chambers wrote of is still relevant today. My highest recommendation.