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4.37  ·  Rating details ·  1,853 ratings  ·  242 reviews
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 r ...more
Paperback, 808 pages
Published August 1st 1987 by Regnery Publishing (first published January 1st 1952)
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Average rating 4.37  · 
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 ·  1,853 ratings  ·  242 reviews

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Oct 21, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: favorites
If you hate politics, if you loathe old Cold War battles, if you have no interest in any of such things, you should still pick up this book. It is more eloquent and moving than anything you will ever read on the subject. And if you still do not believe me, then pick it up, and read the chapter entitled "The Child."

My wife ran over to me, took my hands, and burst into tears. ���Dear heart,��� she said in a pleading voice, ���we couldn���t do that awful thing to a little baby, not to a little baby
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, memoir, 2013
Witness is the autobiography of Whittaker Chambers who grew up on Long Island, joined the communist party in 1925, and later worked as an agent in the underground in Washington DC. He defected from the party in 1937, due to a mixture of factors including his spiritual conversion to Christianity, his horror at Stalin's purges, and the night he "heard the screams echoing from Moscow." He realized that communism "is evil, absolute evil. Of this evil I am a part." He immediately went into hiding wit ...more
Nov 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Witness, which treats the truth like a part-time mistress, is a masterpiece of evasion and embellishment, a perfect portrait of neurosis, and at the same time a hyperarticulate tale of religious conversion and helpless do-gooding. I suspect that some on the left still bother to revile Whitaker Chambers because they see him as a patsy for the Nixons and McCarthys of the world, an opportunistic imprisoner of innocents, and neglect the vortex of self-doubt and mystery that remains at the center of ...more
G.M. Burrow
Jun 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
My mom told me for years that I would love this book. She also said that, as a writer, I would be underlining every other word. Whittaker Chambers doesn't simply have an astounding story to tell (ex-Communist turned Quaker turned Time editor turned key witness in the earthquaking Alger Hiss case), but he has the gift to tell it profoundly well. It's almost impossible to overrate this 800-page monster. It does exactly what Chambers wanted it to do:

"In this book... I am leading you... up and up a
Jun 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
the most poetic, eloquent and compelling book i've ever read. a must read. a narrative on human nature, strength, weakness, vulnerability, and what may or may not be inevitable. but also exciting. a biography written in the first-person by a man of incredible humility, wisdom, compassion and love for his family, mankind and the world. i am lucky to have read this book. it's not religious at all but for me a religious experience no doubt. eye-opening. and i'm not easily stirred. can't recommend e ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I usually do not finish an 800-page book and wish it were longer. I usually don't even read 800-page books (especially these days!), but I devoured Witness. I've heard that some conservatives have found Witness very influential in the development of their own beliefs, and it articulately and persuasively denounces Communism -- just as important, though, it's also a fascinating read. (World magazine put it in its top 10 most influential books of the 20th century re: Christian worldview.)

Oct 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps the greatest work of political biography of the 20th century. Chambers spent many years in the Communist underground in Baltimore, supporting a cell of spies and subversives. Eventually he came to the Cross and escaped the despair of the Communist enterprise. His testimony before the House Committee on Un-American Activities exposed the depth of the Communist penetration of American institutions, and led eventually to the perjury conviction of Alger Hiss, then a respected diplomat, once ...more
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People with an interest in US History or well-written autobiographies
Shelves: reviewed
Whittaker Chambers was an American original. Surely this author, journalist and reformed Soviet spy is the only person to have received both the Order of the Red Star from Moscow (1931) and, in 1984, the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan. Few observers have been exposed to the Twentieth Century in all its raw vicissitudes the way Chambers was: the shift from rural to urban living, the sharp left turn among privileged American undergraduates from complacency to Bolshevism, the miri ...more
Brian Albrecht
Jul 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, faith
Is a book that is over 50 years old worth reviewing? Yes. Because it is timeless and if this review provokes one person to read it, I will have done something good.

Whittaker Chambers was called to be a witness, both for something and against something. Early in his life, he was called to be a witness against the modern world and for communism.Here is a man who was desperate to fix the problems of the modern age. For a while in Chambers’ life, Marxism/Leninism/Communism was his answer and he devo
Apr 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
I have to rate this five stars because of its power to change minds and thus change lives. I began "reading" it by asking my library to obtain the audio edition through inter-library loan. I got half-way through before having to return it. I then picked up my library's re-bound copy and found myself scribbling notes and page numbers on both sides of two bookmarks. I am glad the audio got me through the background and the book got the ideas through me.

Chambers is an apt and intelligent writer. He
This is a heavy book. (Having read the Kindle version, I don't mean physically, though the physical book would be that as well.) Whittaker Chambers is a serious man who lived by choice through serious events. He powerfully wrote about them in 1951 shortly after his part in them concluded. In this autobiography, Chambers recounted his unhappy childhood, his search for meaning in the "crisis of history" that led him to communism, his underground work for the Communist Party, the confrontation betw ...more
D.M. Dutcher
May 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic, nonfiction
Amazing biography of a man who lead a pretty bleak childhood and fell in with the Communist Party in the 1930s. Eventually he couldn't stand it any more, and not only fled it, he was willing to testify against it.

I don't think any work of fiction could do the same subject justice. Just the record of purges, people just up and disappearing, ending up dead, or being spirited away to the USSR are sobering, but the quiet psychological moments are even worse. Paranoia, pettiness, private pain, blind
Aug 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
ooh boy - what I hunk of junk this thing is.

790 pages of Chambers's pathetic mewling makes it easy to understand, even for those of us who weren't there, why so many people assumed he was dishonest. My copy includes rave reviews from Ronald Reagan, Robert Novak, George Will...that's about right.

Chambers is a true believer in every sense and at every point. He is obsessed with belief, with giving himself completely to a cause or a truth. he was driven to communism not by any reasoned interpreta
There were other, less hazardous ways of disengaging myself from the Communist party. I could, possibly, have had myself transferred, on one pretext or another, from the underground to the open Communist Party—such transfers are not uncommon. Once back in the open party, after a suitable period of shuffling, I could have gradually lapsed from it. But such a course would have meant some agreement, some kind of hobbling terms, between the Communist party and me. I wanted no terms. I deliberately d ...more
Nov 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Sometimes, very rarely, a book can profoundly change your perspectives. Witness is one of those books; it is biography, political history, spy thriller and philosophy. Chambers is a compelling writer and it is difficult to put the book down. Without such great writing, the book's impact would certainly have been blunted. The book gets to the heart of the matter by what Chambers calls the "tragedy of history." As an avid historian and political thinker, I had never before truly grasped the confli ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Come for a riveting blow by blow retelling of essential American history and stay for the profound political, philosophical, and spiritual insights. In our day and age Chambers' insight is essential. Trying to separate faith and politics as we so often do is foolhardy and ultimately impossible because what we have faith in determines or should determine our politics. Chambers' simple but elegant analysis of the problem of modernity is that modern man chooses faith in almighty man rather than fai ...more
Daniel Freedman
May 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
"Witness" should be a mandatory read for anyone interested in politics. It is a bit dated, but it reveals how the Communists worked infiltrating the power structure of the United States. Some of the revelations are really shocking. I think all governments are corrupt but the Communists took it all to a dispassionate art form.
I worked on a Kibbutz in Israel, which had Communist beginnings. There is a need in humans to belong to a group and the comfort of having others share your experiences is s
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This political biography of one of the most controversial Soviet spies in American history is so EXCELLENT. The intrigues and subversive plots and plans that he chronicles from the time he was involved in the Communist underground are some of the best "spy" material ... While Chambers held to hard core Communist ideals at the beginning of his life, he found that it eventually led to disillusionment and despair. His search for the truth led him to Christianity and the desire to sound the alarm to ...more
Peter Bradley
Jun 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history

Please give my review a helpful vote at

The Alger Hiss case has always been a part of my background knowledge, but nothing more than that. I graduated from High School in 1977. I remember my history teacher sharing an anti-HUAC chant that he participated in during the 1950s. I knew that Whittaker Chambers was a seedy, homosexual, drunken psycho and that Nixon was involved in some kind of publicity seeking chicanery. I also knew that the question of whether
Frank Stein
Jan 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was much that was unfashionable about this memoir when it was published in 1952, and much that will forever damn it to tastemakers. It praises the House Un-American Activities Committee for its work unearthing Communists, and celebrates its member Richard Nixon as the "kindest of men." It also engages in extended soliloquies on the wonders of Christianity, the nature of God, and the futility of atheism. The New Deal is attacked as a stalking horse for Communism.

Whatever one thinks of these
Kay Mercuro
Mar 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
The most intriguing book I have read. Mr. Chambers lays out the good and the bad both of himself and the Communist infiltration of our government in many places but especially of high places next to the president. Once Mr. Chambers' eyes were opened to the evil of Communism he had to remove himself from all possibilities of being assassinated by the underground network. When he finally tried to get Alger Hiss to leave the Communist Party too because he was his friend, this failed. Later he went ...more
This is an astonishing book, for several reasons.

First, the writing. Chambers was a tremendous writer, and though he struggled putting himself and his family under the microscope, those portions of the book are his most powerful attack on Communism. Especially the short chapter after the birth of his first child, a child party doctrine said should be aborted.

Second, even after the release of the Venona Papers,

it remains an article of faith among U.S. libe
Oct 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Every American should read this book and every student should find it on his/her list of required readings. Whittaker Chambers is a excellent writer and this, so far, is the best autobiography I've ever read.
This is the true account of the Alger Hiss trials as they were a huge part of the Whittaker Chambers story and the author provides an outstanding picture of his emotions and philosophies throughout his ordeals as first a communist, then a convert to Christianity and ultimately the key witne
Michael G
A witness not only to Soviet spies in mid-20th century American government, but to why Communism is evil and how it, and its cousin, Socialism, work to destroy humanity. The searing honesty creates a suspense that Increases with each page. This is also a true story of redemption and amazing personal courage. Today, 65 years later, Chambers' message resonates ominously, yet hopefully as America faces similar threats from the current incarnation of Communism and Socialism - the progressive left. I ...more
John Harder
Oct 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Throughout the Roosevelt administration the state department was infiltrated with Democrats, er, I mean communists. Whitaker Chambers, a reformed communist, was aware of the espionage and started naming names. But, unfortunately, he was not suave, just smart and sincere. This resulted in a seemingly losing battle against one of his best friends and unrepentant undercover communist, Alger Hiss. With persistence, bravery and a newly found faith in God, Mr. Chambers proved his case and became a gre ...more
Sep 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the era
Recommended to David by: WSJ 5 Best
Have had 5 stars in mind during most of my reading time, but in the latter stages have come to think 4.5 stars is right, as I'm having a hard time buying his reasons for not exposing the ESPIONAGE sooner. He says he hates and wants to destroy CommunISM but wants to spare his CommunIST friends and acquaintances. Hmm . . . THEY wanted to destroy the freedom of the U.S. AND Chambers -- don't believe he was thinking clearly.

STILL, this is a remarkable and wonderfully written book . . . many very tho
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A inside look at the Communist movement in this country prior to WWII
Suprisingly good book. The memoir of a former communist who breaks with the party and exposes Alger Hiss in trials that fuel the rise of Richard Nixon. Who knew that he was such a good writer. This book is said to have changed Ronald Reagon's life and was once thought of as a bible for conservatives.

Chambers is plagued by guilt and resentment. He hated his father and blamed his miserable family life in Lynbrook Long Island for his brother's dissipation and suicide. He claims that after world war
David Quijano
Sep 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I started reading Witness by Whittaker Chambers at the suggestion of my uncle. The Red Scare and the Cold War have always interested me, but I haven’t read any books on the subject since college. Witness is still recommended reading by many conservative institutions, and I thought it would be worth giving it a try considering how influential it is.

Witness is the autobiography of Whittaker Chambers. In short, Chambers came across as an introverted, melodramatic, idealist, who was radicalized circ
Jul 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
What can I even say about this book? Long. Heavy in some ways. Disturbing perhaps. And yet it is full of courage, hope, forgiveness, healing, God's ability to conquer and His unfaltering loyalty to us once we turn to Him. What a phenomenal example of one who is willing to make a complete change once he finds he is wrong, even in the face of his own ruin and destruction. Yet another WITNESS that truth will prevail.

Upon typing my notes up this morning, I just had to add a few things I had overlook
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Communist infiltration of USA in 1930s. 5 29 Aug 08, 2012 02:27PM  

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Whittaker Chambers born Jay Vivian Chambers and also known as David Whittaker, was an American writer and editor. A Communist party member and Soviet spy, he later renounced communism and became an outspoken opponent. He is best known for his testimony about the perjury and espionage of Alger Hiss.

In 1952, Chambers's book Witness was published to widespread acclaim. The book was a combination of a

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“Yet there is one experience which most sincere ex-Communists share, whether or not they go only part way to the end of the question it poses. The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. 'He was immensely pro-Soviet,' she said,' and then -- you will laugh at me -- but you must not laugh at my father -- and then -- one night -- in Moscow -- he heard screams. That's all. Simply one night he heard screams.'

A child of Reason and the 20th century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind's. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.”
“It [Communism] is not new. It is, in fact, man's second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: "Ye shall be as gods." It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man's relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.
It is the vision of man's mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man's liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man's destiny and reorganizing man's life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in his image, but because man's mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.”
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