... gripping ... While there is no longer any doubt as to whether Julius Rosenberg gave U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union, Sebba makes a powerful case for Ethel’s relative innocence ... Although the subject matter is often complex, Sebba’s accessible style of writing enables the reader to grasp how two intelligent, good-hearted people could make decisions that led to their downfall. She also unequivocally exposes the malfeasance of the U.S. government with malevolent mischief-makers like Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn riding roughshod over the rights of American citizens. This superbly written facet of history is both outrageous and heartbreaking, and in the end, oddly uplifting.
Sebba provides a compassionate account of Ethel’s character as a wife and mother, dutifully standing by her husband no matter what, and at the same time doing everything in her power to nurture her two boys, who emerged remarkably unscathed by their parents’ ordeal and who honor their parents’ memory in Sebba’s account of their lives ... In this engrossing narrative, Ethel emerges as a doctrinaire Communist, and yet the opposite of the contemporary attacks on her as an unfit mother. Ironically, Ethel conformed to the period’s American ideal of the wife and mother with fealty to her family while she was attacked for being the spy ring leader who manipulated her husband and was thus unfaithful to her role in society and her ties to her kindred.
On the question of Ethel’s guilt, Sebba, who has written many biographies of famous women, waffles and confuses, declaring at the beginning that Ethel was not 'legally complicit,' only later to write that she was, in fact, 'complicit to a conspiracy,' but then asks: 'Was that a crime?' She also points to the relevance of the Rosenberg case in demonstrating how widespread fear of foreign enemies can lead to government abuses, though she stops short of directly tying the case to recent events ... as biography the book falls short. The information to really fill out her story, to add depth and richness to her early internal struggles, is lacking. Sebba wants us to see Ethel as an extraordinary woman, but instead we feel her ordinariness.