Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Book Review - Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy; Anne Sebba

Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy; Anne Sebba

Macmillan Audio - 2021  - (10 hrs. 21 min)

Orlagh Cassidy - narrator (very good)

I've always enjoyed a good dose of NF, especially with a good bio or memoir, so when I saw this biography was recently released, I was intrigued.

I think most of us in the US have heard at least a little about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. The couple who lived on the lower East Side in NYC and were convicted of conspiring to commit espionage for the Soviet Union. The couple was put to death by electrocution minutes apart on June 19, 1953, leaving two young boys who would enter the foster care system.

Ethel, a Jewish immigrant, was raised by a mother who was very cold and critical and favored her brother David. Ethel was a bright girl who graduated from school at 15 and loved music; she had dreams of a career in the opera. She landed a job with the government which she gave up when she married Julius so that he could work for the government in New York. She wanted to be a good wife and mother, but at the age of 37 she was put to death leaving her sons ages 6 and 10 orphans.

All of this happened during the Cold War and both husband and wife believed in communism as did many immigrants at that time. They, along with others,  saw communism as a way to lift immigrants who came to US in search of a better life out of poverty.  The US in the 1950's was the age of McCarthy-ism and there was rampant political paranoia.  Ethel's own brother David perjured himself and later admitted he lied when he gave testimony. There was jealousy among the families and David's false testimony against his sister Ethel was an effort to protect his own wife.  There was no concrete evidence that Ethel was guilty but, it was proven that her husband Julius had been recruited and was a spy. Despite the pressure put on Ethel to incriminate Julius, she refused to do.  Most believed that at least Ethel Rosenberg was innocent but, the government was determined to send a frightening message by putting her to death as well. 

This book was extensively researched and was an eye-opener for sure; it gives the reader a lot to think about. At times it made me mad that something like this could have happened here in the United States, especially in the manner it all appeared to go down.  

Rating - 4/5 stars

This audio download was provided by Macmillan Audio and NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review. The narrator, Orlagh Cassidy did a very good job.

29 comments:

  1. What a sad story. Justice is not always served, I'm afraid.

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    1. No it isn't Deb, what about all the people who have been sent to prison for murders that were later proven they did not commit.

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  2. A couple of months ago, I read the novel The Vixen by Francine Prose which featured the story of Ethel Rosenberg as a kind of background and raison d'etre. It was fascinating and gave insight as fiction often does into the real story of the woman. It is infuriating to understand that those in government at the time viewed her death as a necessary "message." She was collateral damage of the McCarthy era.

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    1. I couldn't agree with you more Dorothy. I'd like to read The Vixen.

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  3. The Rosenbergs are such an interesting story and if this book tells it well, that's great!

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    1. It was very informative but, it could have been better organized.

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  4. I've seen a couple of articles recently about the Rosenbergs that have made me very curious. The McCarthy era is a shameful one, but one that needs to be taught in schools in hopes we can avoid it happening again. We are in a dangerous political era currently and don't need to follow the same path. Thanks for the review, I'm adding this one to my list.

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  5. I think I might like that one too!

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  6. I hadn't realized that Ethel was so young when she was executed. That was a scary period in our history, but I'm starting to think that we are living in one almost as scary today. American citizens are being locked up and held for months without benefit of a trial for some very nebulous reasons. I'm losing all faith in our Department of Justice.

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  7. I've seen a few documentaries about the Rosenbergs, but I've never read any books about them. This bio does sound good.

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    1. It was well done - perhaps it could have been organized a bit better but otherwise very good.

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  8. I don't think I've heard of this incident but it seems typical of the paranoia that was around in the 50s. Interesting book.

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    1. Yes! I think I vaguely recall some drills in grade school similar to active shooter drills they do in schools today.

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  9. I had no idea Ethel was only 37, that shocked me!

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  10. What a tragic story. I had not heard about the Rosenbergs but I'm interested in this book. Thanks for the review!

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  11. This sounds interesting. I read a book about the case years and years ago and really got the impression that Ethel was innocent. The impact it had on their children was so tragic as well.

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    1. It sure was tragic. I saw a 60-minutes interview last year I think with the couple's (2) now 70-something sons.

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  12. This book is on my tbr list. Like others, I had no idea Ethel was so young when she was put to death. If you're interested, Roxanne Coady (RJ Julia Books) did an interview with Anne Sebba on her Just the Right Book podcast.

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    1. Thanks for the info about the Sebba interview. I hop you will like this one.

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  13. I don't really know too much about this but it sounds fascinating. Great review, Diane. Will think about this one especially for Nonfiction November!

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    1. It's worth reading and non fiction November would be great.

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  14. Yeah it seems an interesting and tragic case. Does the book say that Ethel knew Julius was a spy? But then she didn't do anything other than not turn against him ... ? I'm sure there are spies today who do far worse ...

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    1. Not explicitly Susan but, I gathered that she had more than a feeling that he was involved it something that wasn't on the up and up.

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  15. Such a tragic story. I haven't read too much about the Rosenberg's although I know the history somewhat. This sounds like a must read. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

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