Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy

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"For decades, a great number of Americans saw Alger Hiss as an innocent victim of McCarthyism - a distinguished diplomat railroaded by an ambitious Richard Nixon. And even as the case against Hiss grew over time, his dignified demeanor helped create an aura of innocence that outshone the facts in many minds." "Now G. Edward White deftly draws together the countless details of Hiss's life - from his upper middle-class childhood in Baltimore and his brilliant success at Harvard to his later career as a self-made martyr to McCarthyism - to paint a fascinating portrait of a man whose life was devoted to perpetuating a lie. White catalogs the evidence that proved Hiss's guilt, from Whittaker Chambers's famous testimony, to copies of State Department documents typed on Hiss's typewriter, to Allen Weinstein's groundbreaking investigation in the 1970s. The author then explores the central conundrums of Hiss's life: Why did this talented lawyer become a Communist and a Soviet spy? Why did he devote so much of his life to an extensive public campaign to deny his espionage? And how, without producing any new evidence, did he convince many people that he was innocent? White offers a compelling analysis of Hiss's behavior in the face of growing evidence of his guilt, revealing how this behavior fit into an ongoing pattern of denial and duplicity in his life." The story of Alger Hiss is in part a reflection of Cold War America - a time of ideological passions, partisan battles, and secret lives. It is also a story that transcends a particular historical era - a story about individuals who choose to engage in espionage for foreign powers and the secret worlds they choose to conceal. In White's skilled hands, the life of Alger Hiss comes to illuminate both of these themes.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
If you are too young to care much about Alger Hiss, move on. Turn away also if you recall the case and still believe Hiss never fed secrets to Soviet agents. But if you accept Hiss's guilt, as most historians now do, you will profit from G. Edward White's supplementary speculations about why, after prison, that serene and charming man sacrificed his marriage, exploited a son's love and abused the trust of fervent supporters to wage a 42-year struggle for a vindication that could never be honestly gained. — Max Frankel
Publishers Weekly
White (Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court) is the son-in-law of John F. Davis, who served as Alger Hiss's counsel during a 1948 appearance before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Nevertheless, White, a professor at the University of Virginia Law School, cuts Hiss little slack, portraying him as that perhaps most base of creatures: an unrepentant and lifelong liar. As White clearly shows, Hiss not only lived a lie as a State Department official in the secret employ of the Soviets, but also thereafter, through decades of denial in the face of ever-mounting evidence. White contends that, as the years rolled on, Hiss found his raison d' tre in the useless charade of seeking vindication. White argues that had Hiss not maintained his innocence, "he would have been just one other undercover agent who had lied, betrayed his country, and gotten caught." In other words he would have been a mediocrity: an idea his wunderkind ego could not tolerate. But through persistent denial-and by encouraging unwitting supporters to champion his cause-Hiss was able to convince himself that the jig was not up, since his deceits continued to be believed in eloquently vocal quarters. Indeed, White writes that Hiss "tailor[ed his narrative of innocence] to suit the changing tastes of an elite segment of public opinion, from whom all of the information and perceptions about Hiss originated." But now, he notes, even that elite sees the light, and Hiss stands convicted once more. With its incisive analysis and readability, this is a worthwhile addition to the vast Hiss literature. (Mar.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A generation of Americans grew up believing that there was a good possibility that Alger Hiss was innocent of his 1950 conviction of spying for the Soviets. Certainly, Hiss never wavered from his firm insistence that he had been framed by an overzealous FBI during the early Cold War years. His position began to unravel in the late 1970s, however, with the publication of Allen Weinstein's Perjury, which strongly argued for his guilt. That seminal work was followed in the 1990s (after the opening of the Soviet archives to Western researchers) by Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's Venona and by Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev's The Haunted Wood, which carefully outlined Soviet spying activities in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s. White (Oliver Wendell Holmes) has delved once again into the tortured Hiss case and provides readers with remarkable insights into the character of a man who for over four decades denied his spying past. White's father-in-law helped defend Hiss in 1948, but White's own initial belief in his possible innocence was negated by further research. This is an intriguing portrait of an enigmatic man who stood center stage during the most electrifying moments of the Cold War. Recommended for all collections.-Ed Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"With his portrait of the man himself--as well as supporters, for whom almost no evidence was convincing--Mr. White has written the best book ever about Alger Hiss." -- Michael J. Ybarra, The Wall Street Journal

"An extraordinary book, packed with information and fresh insights. Part detective story, part cultural history, part psychodrama--I couldn't put it down."--Cass Sunstein, author of Republic.Com

"What White accomplishes in this innovative and brilliant new book is not yet another attempt to show Hiss's guilt, but rather an examination of how Hiss was both a gifted Soviet agent and 'a successful publicizer of his innocence,' able to convince so many people.... It is the achievement of G. Edward White to have provided the final unmasking of Alger Hiss, and, one hopes, put an end once and for all to the campaign waged on the traitor's behalf."--Ronald Radosh, National Review

"If you accept Hiss's guilt, as most historians now do, you will profit from G. Edward White's supplementary speculations about why, after prison, that serene and charming man sacrificed his marriage, exploited a son's love and abused the trust of fervent supporters to wage a 42-year struggle for a vindication that could never be honestly gained."--Max Frankel, The New York Times Book Review

"In this inclusive, impressive, deeply pondered and finely spun study, G. Edward White has provided a definitive analysis of the Hiss case. Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars should provide a welcome close to the controversy over this historic imbroglio."--Washington Times

"An intriguing portrait of an enigmatic man who stood center stage during the most electrifying moments of the Cold War."--Library Journal

"A significant contribution to a subject that continues to fascinate Americans.... White presents an Alger Hiss with some depth and significance, a consummate spy who was able to maintain the facade of innocence for nearly half of his life."--New York Sun

"With its incisive analysis and readability, this is a worthwhile addition to the vast Hiss literature."--Publishers Weekly

"Should be the final and definitive history of the famous case. Brilliantly written and massively researched, White's deeply understanding analysis of Hiss's obsessive, life-long and at times almost successful efforts to repudiate the charge of treason should convince all but those to whom his innocence has become a matter of dogma."--Louis Auchincloss

"An extremely valuable and much needed contribution to the history of the Hiss-Chambers Case. G. Edward White provides a nuanced biographical study of how Hiss dealt with various challenges in his life and how his steadfast insistence on his innocence despite all of the damning evidence fits into that pattern. White combines this psychological study with a discerning analysis of the evidence available at the time of the trial as well as that coming to light subsequently along with an insightful review of the literature on the case. White's Alger Hiss's Looking Glass Wars bids to join Weinstein's Perjury and Tanenhaus's Whittaker Chambers as one of the indispensable books on the Hiss-Chambers Case." --John Earl Haynes, co-author of In Denial: Historians, Communism, and Espionage and Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America

"A great read, a real page-turner. This is the first of the books about Alger Hiss fully to accept that he was a Soviet spy. White moves on to ask the fascinating question--if Hiss was guilty of everything he was charged with (and more), why did he spend his post-prison decades steadfastly proclaiming his innocence? The answer seems to be that this was how Hiss had dealt with all the major crises of his earlier life. And this book explains what they were in lucid and compelling prose." --Stanley N. Katz, Director, Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195182552
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

G. Edward White is David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. His books include Oliver Wendell Holmes: Sage of the Supreme Court and several other works of biography and law. His father-in-law, John F. Davis, served as Alger Hiss's counsel in a 1948 hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1 Family and Marriage 3
2 Exposure 35
3 Prison 81
4 The Campaign for Vindication 117
5 The Campaign Gains Momentum 143
6 The Intervention of Allen Weinstein 173
7 The Russian Connection 201
8 Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars 237
Afterword 251
Notes 255
Index 289
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