Review – Kirkus


November 1, 1997

NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND: The Whittaker ChambersRalph de Toledano Correspondence: 1949-1960
By Ralph de Toledano (Editor)

An intriguing and illuminating correspondence between two of America’s earliest cold warriors. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers (himself a former Communist agent then employed as a senior editor at Time magazine) exposed Alger Hiss as a Soviet spy. At no small cost, he made his accusation stick, and the liberal poster boy eventually served five years in a federal penitentiary on perjury charges. In the meantime, Manhattan-based de Toledano (then a Newsweek reporter) became a trusted friend of the wary Chambers, who had retreated to a working farm he owned in Maryland. The two soon began writing each other with some regularity, and their letters offer the hair-down commentary of insiders on an eventful era during which Hiss was twice in the dock; de Toledano published Seeds of Treason, a conservative tome; Chambers had an even more successful bestseller (his memoir Witness); the Korean conflict raged; and the political fortunes of Richard Nixon waxed, then waned. Deeply concerned about the Red Menace, the perceived perfidy of the left, and the future of conservatism, the pen pals could be gossipy, even snide, in their assessments of allies, intellectual or otherwise–William Buckley, Bennett Cerf, Dwight Eisenhower, Arthur Koestler, Henry Luce, Joseph McCarthy, et al. Nor did they shy from sharing workaday worries involving appropriate outlets for the articles they were writing, the inadequate terms of book contracts, and the well-being of their children. In like vein, de Toledano (who turned 81 in August) and Chambers were not above strutting their intellectual stuff. The correspondence tails off in 1957, when Newsweek assigned de Toledano to its Washington bureau (within easy reach of exurban Maryland) and ends altogether less than one year before Chambers’s death in mid-1961. A contemporary window on a remarkable friendship and a divisive decade, which should give considerable pause to those who recall the 1950s as some sort of golden age without strife.


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