Friday, April 29, 2011

History's Witness

Whittaker Chambers testifies before the HUAC. (Alger Hiss can be seen in the back.)
The American Conservative has published my interview with David Chambers the grandson of ex-Communist spy, Whittaker Chambers. There is still much to be revealed about the Cold War and I am grateful to David for sharing his research with me and with the world. Here is an excerpt of what he told me:
 I have read most books on the Hiss case. In the process, I have amassed a library of more than 500 books on that and closely related subjects. Almost every book is so partisan, whether left or right—again, in my opinion—as to contribute nearly nothing to understanding the case. Furthermore, most of them regurgitate what others in their camp have said before them.

Susan Jacoby’s book Alger Hiss and the Battle for History approaches the Hiss case from the left. Jacoby was so sloppy with her facts that even the Hiss camp decried the book. I like her writing style—when I started reading the book, I felt like I was listening to a deep discussion among family and friends. It seemed open and inviting, and I was eager to read on. However, she muffed numerous facts, which colored her account. Her sole contribution seems to have been to concede on behalf of the left that Hiss was indeed guilty.

The latest book, Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary, by Richard Reinsch, is weaker still. It takes a decidedly [right-wing] approach. The author promises to systematize Chambers’s thought. He then proceeds not only to dismiss all leftist influences but to focus solely on what he calls “conversion passages” in Witness and Chambers’s other late writings. This book was far more narrow-minded than Jacoby’s and contributed exactly nothing new to an understanding of Whittaker Chambers.

My father helped Allen Weinstein when he was writing Perjury: The Hiss-Chambers Case. The only other book I know of to which my father contributed as a source is Sam Tanenhaus’s Whittaker Chambers: A Biography. To this day, my father remains so upset at the way Tanenhaus portrayed his approach to the book and then wrote it that my father has sworn never to work with anyone else again. That wound up hurting the only writer to publish something really interesting about my grandfather: Andrew Meier for his book The Lost Spy, which traces an American couple who not only mirrored my grandparents but whom they in fact knew. (Read entire interview)

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