Perhaps the greatest American autobiography in both the quality of its writing and the import of its content is Whittaker Chambers’ Witness (1952). Sadly, it’s also one of the most neglected by the country’s leftist-dominated intelligentsia.
Witness describes Chambers’ winding path through the Communist underground in the 1920s and ’30s, from his Pennsylvania Quaker upbringing, through atheism and Marxism, and finally a return to a belief in God that led him to turn against his former associates and testify as the lead witness in the famous 1948 Hiss trials that launched the career of Richard Nixon.
Chambers details his life as a journalist and Time editor who had risen to become a high-level Soviet spy. He purloined U.S. government documents and led in the creation of espionage cells in New York and Washington, D.C., where he cultivated the now-famous Communist agents Alger Hiss at the State Department, and Harry Dexter White at Treasury. Both men were hugely influential in U.S. policy; Hiss was instrumental at the Yalta Conference and its pact between FDR, Roosevelt, and Stalin, and helped create the United Nations. White was a key figure in the Bretton Woods Conference and a creator of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The middle section of Chambers’ book reads like a spy novel, with safe houses, microfilm, dead drops, scheming...