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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 those themes.
|List of Illustrations|
|1||Family and Marriage||3|
|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|
Posted January 11, 2004
May of those attending college in the 1950s and 1960s felt that Alger Hiss was a victim of McCarthyism and Nixonism. Though there is no connection to Hiss except through Nixon, Watergate actually strengthened the belief that this distinguished diplomat was an innocent victim to an overzealous individual whose ambition made that of Lady Macbeth seems like a schoolgirl. This belief probably still holds somewhat in spite of Allen Weinstein's powerful condemnation investigation to the contrary because Mr. Hiss appeared so compassionately honest while insisting on his deathbed that he was innocent. G. Edward White provides the readers with a tremendous biography that gives insight into the life and times of Mr. Hiss. Besides the fascination of what made this man tick, Mr. White also describes how Mr. Hiss made a living as a self created martyr who staunchly perpetuated the fabrication of denial. To show how good Mr. Hiss was at propaganda (long before Hilary he made the case of the right wing conspiracy), this reviewer had doubts to his guilt until yesterday, but not anymore. <P>ALGER HISS'S LOOKING-GLASS WARS is a tremendous biography that reads some what like a true crime book, but is much more as the Cold War era is extraordinary depicted in the background. It is easy to read except that the fascination will hook the audience into a one sitting experience. G. Edward White clearly makes the case that any rational individual will believe that Mr. Hiss committed treason as a Soviet spy. This reviewer is converted. This is a great work worth reading for its clarity on an intriguing person and period. <P>Harriet Klausner
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Posted June 30, 2009
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