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Publisher's Summary

New York Times best-selling author Anne Sebba's moving biography of Ethel Rosenberg, the wife and mother whose execution for espionage-related crimes defined the Cold War and horrified the world.

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 book 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, 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 children.

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.

A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin's Press

"Sebba vividly contrasts Ethel, who always put others first and whose poise during her nightmarish trial was used against her, with her devious accusers and rabid prosecutors. Ultimately, Sebba places the martyrdom of Ethel Rosenberg, a 'profoundly moral woman,' on the long scroll of anti-Semitic and sexist atrocities, creating a redefining and redemptive work of astute protest and caution." (Booklist, starred review)

©2021 Anne Sebba (P)2021 Macmillan Audio

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thus story is frighteningly close to us

when Trump asked, *where is my Roy Cohn?* it brought the travesty of Ethel Rosenberg 's execution back full force. when will corruption and prejudice ever end?

11 people found this helpful

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Explanatory and Sympathetic (spoilers)

If you’ve seen one of the documentaries about the Rosenbergs you know that the story is quite a bit more complex than “they sold nuclear secrets to the Soviets.” This book fill in lots of details about the lives, backgrounds and personalities of the Rosenbergs, most specifically Ethel. It makes a powerful case for her innocence and explains why she was scapegoated by members of her own immediate family and McCarthy. Of the 4 alleged perpetrators she was certainly the most innocent, having (probably) been aware of her husband’s activities but not directly involved in them at any time. It is a story that needs to be placed carefully in the context of the time as well, and the author does that skillfully. I wasn’t sure I’d get through the whole book because lately I’ve been losing interest in books quickly and courtroom drama isn’t my thing on a good day, but this held my attention to the end.

The only real flaw - if there is one - is that the book is so obviously a vigorous defense of Ethel. A bit more objectivity might have made it more palatable to skeptics. It didn’t bother me because I wanted the details it provided and wasn’t convinced of the guilt of either Rosenberg.

I thought the narrator did a good job.

10 people found this helpful

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  • jp
  • 06-26-21

Mixed Review

Understanding that it’s not easy to gain new insight seventy years after the fact still most of this book felt like a rehash of previously published material. A factual account of their story was presented, and while it was interesting it didn’t help me to understand what drove the people involved to do what they did, make the decisions they did, etc. Until, that is, the final chapter and the epilogue, in which the reader gets a little more of a glimpse into what drove Ethel to become the person she became. There were allusions to some of this more personal information throughout the book but it is never fully fleshed out. As I said, it is surely difficult to get such insight when the principals are long departed, but I’d hoped for more than what this book delivered.

The narration was fine, at times when voicing a criminals words she sounded like a caricature Bugsy Malone but not in a bad way, actually made me smile.

Overall had hoped for a more personal history of these two historical figures but the book was still interesting.

6 people found this helpful

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Roy Cohn & McCarthyism Killed Ethel Rosenberg

When Donald Trump recently screamed: "Where's my Roy Cohn" it is easy to understand the power that Cohn had. As a young 23yo vicious attorney, Cohn made sure that there were no jews on the jury (even though NYC was 35% Jewish). He actively campaigned for the the death penalty--as always, he betrayed American Justice and was disbarred later in his career. He was a self hating Jew who died destitute-just desserts were rightfully served!
The Rosenberg's situation was a classic story of everything that could have gone wrong did--very tragic and sad--like "The Red Scare" of the time, a very dark chapter in American history.

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The Real Ethel

For anyone who wants to know more about the Rosenbergs and their trial (and the execreble Roy Cohn, who figuratively drove them to the electric chair through his scheming), this is a comprehensive volume well narrated. The government believed that by arresting and imprisoning Ethel without evidence, they could get her husband to flip. But it had not counted on two strong minded individuals who believed in their innocence and showed more integrity than any lawyer, judge, or relative they encountered.

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Wrong on so Many Levels

Outstanding research by the author. A very interesting accounting of Ethel Rosenberg's life and those closest to her. My heart ached for her two young sons.

4 people found this helpful

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One of the best biographies out there!

This book is so exceptional that I will read it again....and then again! Regardless of 'good' government or 'bad' government - there are always secrets kept from the people and lies told. The travesties engendered by the 'red scare' in America continue to be disclosed to the shame and chagrin of many. For anther - listen to 'Trumbo'. We should all learn the truth if we can.

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Great book. Worth your time

This is a good read. If anyone was railroaded by the system Ethel Rosenberg was one. The insanity of the 1950's and Mc Carthy/Cohn is a stain on our history. I am profoundly impressed by this woman and her integrity.

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illuminating

A very enlightening story, one of love, that reveals Ethel Rosenberg as a humanist, devoted wife and mother, and an artist.

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Great read!

I had only briefly studied about the Rosenbergs in high school; but with our country’s new 2021 presidential agenda, I was curious to know if the Rosenbergs were, in fact, really any more or less guilty than America’s chief leader and family today. I now believe they were not AS guilty as those who are actually in command today. I consider this a very timely work even now, as it shows the hypocrisy in today’s world. The narration was very good and easy to understand. However, I enjoyed it more at a tiny bit slower rate than presented. A truly wonderful book.

3 people found this helpful