ALGER HISS'S LOOKING-GLASS WARS: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy

G. Edward White, Author . Oxford Univ. $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-19-515345-3

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'être 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.)

Reviewed on: 02/02/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
Open Ebook - 318 pages - 978-0-19-534840-8
Paperback - 297 pages - 978-0-19-518255-2
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