ARC BOOK REVIEW: Ethel Rosenberg: An American Tragedy by Anne Sebba


Publication Date: June 8, 2021
Format: Kindle
Genre: Biography

Publisher: St Martin Press
320 pages
Buy: Audio | Kindle 


In June 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a couple with two young sons, were led separately from their prison cells on Death Row and electrocuted moments apart. Both had been convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage for the Soviet Union, despite the fact that the US government was aware that the evidence against Ethel was shaky at best and based on the perjury of her own brother. 

This audiobook is the first to focus on one half of that couple for more than 30 years, and much new evidence has surfaced since then. Ethel was a bright girl who might have fulfilled her personal dream of becoming an opera singer, but instead found herself struggling with the social mores of the 1950s. She longed to be a good wife and perfect mother to her two small boys, while battling the political paranoia of the McCarthy era, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and a mother who never valued her. Because of her profound love for and loyalty to her husband, she refused to incriminate him, despite government pressure on her to do so. Instead, she courageously faced the death penalty for a crime she hadn’t committed, orphaning her two young sons. 

Seventy years after her trial, this is the first time Ethel’s story has been told with the full use of the dramatic and tragic prison letters she exchanged with her husband, her lawyer and her psychotherapist over a three-year period, two of them in solitary confinement. Hers is the resonant story of what happens when a government motivated by fear tramples on the rights of its citizens. 


Thank you to Netgalley & St Martin Press for gifting me this book in exchange for an honest review.  

I have always been fascinated by this story but have never really delved into it.  This book is extremely well researched and brings Ethel from the caricature that she has become to the woman, wife and mother she was.  We get to read letters that she wrote from prison and really get to know the whole story behind what put her there. 

This was a case that rocked America.  There was such a fear of communism that people were blacklisted for even being thought to be communists.  People lost their jobs, their homes etc this was a time of fear. It was this fearful witch hunt for communists that inspired Arthur Miller's The Crucible.So is it any wonder that family would turn against each other in order to save themselves? 

This was a fascinating book however I felt the writing was very dry.  It read a bit more like a text book, it was difficult to stay engaged but this tragedy helped pull me through as well as all the very well researched facts.  There is no doubt that Julius was in fact spying for Russia but the evidence that Ruth knew or was involved is sketchy and based on testimony of people trying to save their own skin.  Overall this truly was an American tragedy. 

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