The story of Whittaker Chambers, HUAC, and the case that defined the McCarthy era, as reported by one of the twentieth century’s most respected journalists.
In August 1948, a former Communist Party member named Whittaker Chambers testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee that a secret cell of Communists had infiltrated Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal administration. Chief among the conspirators, according to Chambers, was Alger Hiss, a former government attorney and State Department official who had taken part in the Yalta Conference and been instrumental in the creation of the United Nations. Hiss’s categorical denial of the charges, which led Chambers to produce evidence linking both men to Soviet espionage, quickly escalated into one of the most divisive episodes in American history and ignited the widespread fear and paranoia of the McCarthy era.
As the US correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, Alistair Cooke reported extensively on the Hiss affair. In an atmosphere that he memorably compares to that of a seventeenth-century religious war, Cooke maintained a clear head and his signature intellectual rigor. A Generation on Trial, which begins with a brilliantly succinct summary of the case—“We are about to look at the trials of a man who was judged in one decade for what he was said to have done in another”—is both a fascinating historical document and a stirring example of journalistic integrity.
About the author
Alistair Cooke, KBE (1908–2004), was a legendary British American journalist, television host, and radio broadcaster. He was born in Lancashire, England, and after graduating from the University of Cambridge, was hired as a journalist for the BBC. He rose to prominence for his London Letter reports, broadcast on NBC Radio in America during the 1930s. Cooke immigrated to the United States in 1937. In 1946, he began a tradition that would last nearly six decades—his Letter from America radio appearances on the BBC. Cooke was also beloved as the host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre for twenty-one years. He wrote many books, both collections of his Letters from America and other projects. After his death, the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Award in Journalism was established to support students from the United Kingdom seeking to study in the United States, and vice versa.
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