- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 30 hours and 19 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
- Audible.com Release Date: December 2, 2008
- Language: English
- ASIN: B001MXQ7A6
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Witness Audiobook – Unabridged
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Have you ever wondered what kind of whacko would become a Communist? Especially a brilliant American citizen, blessed to live in freedom. What would make people consciously choose the path of advocating the violent overthrow of Western civilization?
I strongly encourage everyone to read this classic autobiography, Witness. I promise: you will never see the world the same way again.
Chambers was born in the early 1900s and raised in New York state, to highly irregular but intellectual parents. His childhood was wretched and he found the world a miserable place. While at a young and vulnerable age, he was exposed to some family friends who were ardent Communists. They portrayed themselves as patriots whose love for America convinced them that they must completely change the entire order of things because our entire society was unjust and "broken." (Sound familiar?)
Chambers possessed a powerful intellect, which he directed at the study of Marxist and Communist philosophies. As he read more and more, he came to believe that only a complete destruction of America could "free her" to embrace the radical new order of things that a Communist revolution would bring.
He joined the Communist underground and did active espionage work for several years. He spied on and reported on various members of the U.S. government, reporting to contacts who served the Soviet Union. His closest colleague - and personal friend - was Alger Hiss, who was a highly placed government official.
Eventually he became utterly disillusioned with Communism and, in fact, realized that it is inherently evil. He broke with the communist party and fled into hiding with his wife and child. After years of spiritual searching, he became a devout Christian. A phenomenally gifted writer, he landed a job with TIME magazine and rose quickly to become one of their 7 senior editors. He regularly used this position to try and warn America about the dangers of leftist views and the Soviet Union.
As most people know, in 1948 he was called before a committee of Congress which was investigating Communist activity in America. When asked, Chambers denounced his former friend and fellow Communist spy, Alger Hiss. (There was a young member of Congress who assisted in the hearings, and thereby rose to prominence, named Richard Nixon. )
Meanwhile the handsome, urbane, well-dressed Alger Hiss indignantly proclaimed his innocence (sound familiar?). Under oath, Hiss adamantly denied being a Communist. Then, Hiss and his minions went to work on Chambers: smearing his reputation, insulting Chambers' motives, and digging up dirt on his personal life and past. (Joe the Plumber, anyone?)
Eventually Whittaker Chambers produced incontrovertible evidence of Hiss' involvement in spying on the United States, on behalf of the Soviet Union. Hiss was convicted of perjury and went to prison, still insisting on his innocence. Alger Hiss' famous last words at trial were: "Until the day I die, I shall always wonder how Whittaker Chambers broke into my house and wrote that memo on my typewriter." Even today, leftists will vigorously defend Hiss' innocence and say that he was wrongly convicted in a right-wing frame-up.
In the 1990s the former Soviet Union released its secret files on Alger Hiss which proved that he was a significant and valuable source of intel to them for many years.
I strongly recommend this absolutely fascinating book for three reasons.
First, it helps the reader to "get inside the mind of" a Communist. Why do they see the world this way? And how do they justify the violence and destruction? Why do they lie to themselves so appallingly? How do they stifle their conscience? Why do they have to convince Americans that our country is broken and needs fixing? Why do they thrive on crises, either real or created? What is "agit-prop," and do we see that tactic today? (As Sarah Palin would say: "You Betcha!")
Second, the personal story and drama of Whittaker Chambers' life and escapades is incredibly compelling. For instance, his account of hiding from the vast, violent Communist network in fear for his life is amazing. He names others who broke from the Party and were assassinated. His brother committed suicide despite Chambers spending years trying to prevent it. The way that Chambers gradually came to faith is told with power and depth, very movingly. The hand of God is clearly evident in many incidents of Chambers' life. During the worst part of the Hiss trial, Chambers tried in his total despair to commit suicide, and God blocked it.
It is also fascinating to read about the huge contrast between Chambers and Hiss. At the time of the Hiss trials, Chambers was poor, unattractive, overweight, rumply, humble, shy, and had terrible-looking teeth. He was a man of profound intellect yet simple tastes and desires. All he wanted to do was work his farm and raise his children to live on the land. By contrast, Alger Hiss was wealthy, handsome, the son of a privileged East Coast family, went to all the right schools, married a lady who also went to all the right schools, and knew all the right people. And, Hiss was incredibly well-spoken...a real orator. (Does ALL of this sound familiar????) There is much, much more!
It bears repeating that Chambers was a profoundly talented writer. He truly had a remarkable gift with the English language. (He also spoke German, Russian, French, and a couple other languages.) Every page is a pleasure to read because he so deftly wielded the pen and prose. Instead of saying that his friend was a drunk, Chambers writes, "He was buoyed along by a generous displacement of Scotch."
Finally, though, the most urgent reason to read the book is that Chambers exposed the total infiltration of the U.S. government by Communists and their "fellow travelers" (=sympathizers). EVERY single department of the U.S. government, from top to bottom, was completely infested with Communist spies, or with sympathizers who could influence policy and decision-making. This was called "the Red Scare." Chambers outlined the shocking scope in detail, including naming names. For instance, Alger Hiss was the #3 man at the State Department...while he was an active Soviet spy! Alger Hiss sat directly behind Roosevelt during the famous Yalta conference with Stalin and Churchill, where America's post-war policy and cooperation with Europe were formed.
We would be breathtakingly naive to think that things are any different today. Just because Americans are complacent, spoiled, blissfully ignorant, and too busy watching TV or taking their kids to soccer games, doesn't mean that the enemies of Christ and of freedom are asleep, too. The battle rages!!
The Leadership Institute recommends this book on their "Read to Lead" list of 25 top books "for conservatives who want to win."
Robert Novak said that Witness changed his life. Not to be missed!
Somewhat long at 800 pages, it is an important read, one that reminds us of the price so many people paid to keep the western world free as well as the extent to which evil forces will go to achieve their ends. It also provides a lesson still applicable today which is to be aware of the degree to which left leaning elites are protected by the media whenever they are challenged. Chambers was largely vilified and Alger Hiss protected until it was no longer possible to question which one was telling the truth.
In the end, it is astounding that Alger Hiss played a significant role in the Yalta Negotiations that in effect handed Eastern Europe over to the Russians in 1945. Chambers had began alerting the Department of Justice about the the presence of communist agents in government as early as 1939. For the next ten years, the Department of Justice seemed more interested in protecting its members than the country.
I recommend Witness to anyone who likes to read history. It is an inspiring story on many levels.
It is both an enlightening and profoundly depressing work – depressing in what it says about communism in the 20th century in the United States, what it implies about the then government, and what one can extrapolate from it to the present.
It’s a rather long work, but Chambers is an excellent (if not loquacious and certainly introspective) writer. He was for many years an editor of and contributor to Time Magazine.
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