Play It Again, Alger

After 40 years, Alger Hiss is still hard at it. Recollections of a Life, his second book, combines a pale, noncommittal account of Hiss's pre-1948 career as itinerant paperpusher (Justice Holmes, the New Deal, Yalta, the Carnegie Endowment) with yet another rehashing of the old, old story. Whittaker Chambers was crazy. I'm an honest man. I will be vindicated. The touchy spots are evasively skirted, the familiar refrains resung. Who cares? The friends of Alger Hiss will buy it out of yawning habit. Others will stay far away.

The main difference between the reception of Recollections of a Life and In the Court of Public Opinion, Hiss's previous book, is that the climate of opinion regarding the Hiss-Chambers case has shifted profoundly in the ensuing years. In intellectually respectable circles it used to be easy enough to avow a belief in Hiss's innocence without being hooted out of the room. The publication of Allen Weinstein's Perjury changed all that. Perjury was an extraordinarily detailed factual examination of the Hiss-Chambers case written by a liberal historian who started out believing that Alger Hiss was innocent and ended up convinced of his guilt. It knocked the stuffing out of Hiss, to say nothing of his dwindling band of Stalinoid loyalists. (The fact that in Recollections Hiss has next to nothing to say about Weinstein is more revealing than anything else about...

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