Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review: Alger Hiss's Looking Glass Wars

Gack...that was my response upon finishing this book.  A "new" look at one of the United States' most controversial traitors, Alger Hiss was (and of this there is no doubt) a long time spy for the Soviet Union, operating during the '30's and '40's as a high level government official in Washington, D.C.
Tried and convicted of perjury, Hiss's case has always been the subject of partisan rancor on both the left and right as Hiss was caught up in the whirlwind of the McCarthy Red Scare hearings which also involved Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover.  Due to the doubts created by the involvement of a number of shady characters, Hiss spent nearly 50 years of his life successfully sewing doubt in the minds of the American public as to the legitimacy of his conviction.
In the 90's with the opening of Soviet archives, definitive proof of his guilt was brought to light (though some delusional members of the American Left still cling to their baseless belief that he was innocent of all charges) also brought this reexamination of Hiss's "motives" for dragging family and friends down with him in his 50 years of continual myth making.
Unfortunately this book, while serving as an excellent primer on the case and Hiss himself, it does nothing except summarize previously known facts and contains little more than Psych 101 explanations for Hiss's actions.  
Saying that Hiss liked to help out people in trouble, be in control and had issues with women, doesn't exactly explain why someone would enter the service of foreign country to the detriment of his own and then when caught and had finished serving his jail time, spend the rest of his life devoted to what can be only termed at this point a complete farce of a cover story--ruining not only what remained of his life but that of his family, friends and supporters.
The author, G. Edward White says he wanted to shed light on the motivations of one of America's most notorious figures...in that he failed...miserably...Regurgitating previously known information while adding in a few psychobabble terms does not a quality book make.

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