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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

Readers of my previous books might wonder why I came to write on Alger Hiss. My work in twentieth-century American history has centered on legal topics, with a particular emphasis on constitutional law and judges. Hiss was a lawyer, but this book does not focus on him in that capacity. It is about his far better known lives as accused Communist and Soviet spy, convicted perjurer, defender of his innocence, and tireless campaigner in pursuit of his vindication. It is also about the changing reaction of sectors of the American public to Hiss, and to the domestic and international issues with which he was identified.

My interest in Hiss did not derive from any of my former scholarly interests. It originated when I learned, in the late 1960s, that my father-in-law, John F. Davis, had provided legal representation for Alger Hiss in 1948. John Davis had been Hiss's counsel at an August 25, 1948, hearing in which Hiss appeared before the House of Representatives's Committee on Un-American Activities to deny accusations made about him by Whittaker Chambers. John continued to work with the Hiss defense team for the remainder of 1948, in which Hiss filed a libel suit against Chambers and appeared before a New York grand jury that eventually indicted him for perjury, and throughout Hiss's 1949 and 1950 perjury trials. John was not among the counsel of record in the libel suit, nor did he represent Hiss in court during either of the trials. He was nowhere near as closely involved with the Hiss defense efforts as Edward McLean, William Marbury, or Harold Rosenwald, who coordinated them and, along with Hiss, developed the principal defense strategies. But John was nonetheless an active member of the Hiss defense between August 1948 and January 1950, corresponding frequently with McLean and Marbury.

John played no part in any of Hiss's legal proceedings after his 1950 conviction, which consisted of retrial motions, appeals, petitions to the United States Supreme Court, and a 1978 petition to vacate Hiss's 1950 perjury conviction. He never . . .

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