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Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, and the Schism in the American Soul [Paperback]

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Pages   350
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.1" Width: 6.08" Height: 1.08"
Weight:   1.27 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Publisher   ISI Books
ISBN  1882926919  
EAN  9781882926916  

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In 1952, Random House published Whittaker Chambers's Witness. Not only did it immediately become a bestseller; it was recognized by many as one of the great spiritual autobiographies of the twentieth century. In Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, and the Schism in the American Soul, editor Patrick Swan marks the fiftieth anniversary of Witness's publication by anthologizing 23 of the best essays ever written on Chambers, Hiss, or both. Essays by literary luminaries such as Leslie Fiedler, Arthur Koestler, Lionel Trilling, Rebecca West, Murray Kempton, and William F. Buckley Jr. tell the story of these two fascinating (and ultimately mysterious) men and of what they and their conflict represented. Sampling the entire spectrum of respectable thought on Hiss and Chambers, these pieces do not, as a rule, trouble themselves much with the facts of the case; Hiss's guilt was not so much in doubt then, and is certainly well documented by now. But the essayists' divergent opinions on the nature of communism (and anticommunism), liberalism, the proper relationship between religion and politics, and many other issues remain provocative -- perhaps even more so now than when they were written.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
More fun with dishonesty  Feb 11, 2007
Six decades after the trial of Alger Hiss, his innocence could not be clearer to the unbiased researcher.

If a highly placed US State Department employee such as Hiss had been a spy for the USSR, there is no question that documentation would exist in the Soviet archives. Yet exhaustive searches of both military and civilian records in the Soviet Union as well as inquiries among former Soviet government agents have turned up nothing whatsoever to suggest that Hiss was a spy.

Finding nothing in these records, Hiss' accusers have made the nonsensical charge that Hiss was a yet unidentified agent known as "ALES." However, they ignore the fact that details of ALES' own life contradict those of Hiss, as well as the fact that it is ridiculous to suggest that an agent would use a code name that gives clues as to his real name. Did James Bond use the code name "Jimmy"?

It remains a fact that the only evidence produced at Hiss' trial to corroborate Chambers' claims was the Woodstock typewriter Hiss supposedly used to type incriminating documents later in the possession of Chambers. However, today it is known that the typewriter entered into evidence had a serial number giving it a manufacturing date too late for it to have been in Hiss' possession in 1938, and that even the FBI knew this.

In any case, you won't learn any of these things from this book by Patrick Swan. To say that the book is deeply biased in favor of Chambers would be an understatement. In Swan's book, Mr. Chambers, traitor, thief, and perjurer is transformed into some sort of genius, whose works "provided much of the intellectual foundation for conservatives' defense of the West."

Finally, the author makes the disingenuous claim that, regarding Chambers, Hiss, and their conflict, the book provides a "balanced spectrum of opinion" on the case. Of the 25 essays in the book, 21 are pro-Chambers, 2 are neutral, and only 2 defend Hiss (and these last are very short and make no serious examination of the evidence). For a fair reading of the Hiss case and its significance, the reader will have to look elsewhere.
The Fun of Dishonesty  Apr 17, 2003
One of the great things about the Hiss case is the transparent dishonesty of those who defend Hiss. If you knew nothing else about the case, the fact that Hiss's defenders lied so often would tell you he was guilty. (For that matter, anyone reading Hiss's testimony, with it's carefully worded replies that sounded like answers, but, on examination, turned out to be legally meaningless, should have known that Hiss was desperate to hide the facts).
"A Reader" says:

'At first W. Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss and others were secret Communists whose purpose was to influence policy.' Actually, the first time Chambers ever told anyone in the govt. about his actions (Sept. 3rd, 1939; to Adolf Berle of the State Dept.), Chambers said he was a spy, a fact Berle recorded in his diary and notes of the conversation. When Chambers didn't get immunity from prosecution, as promised, he stopped confessing to felonies.

Yes, Chambers was vague on when he left the Party. He had a lousy memory for dates. And Hiss got the year he "gave" his car away wrong by a year, and the season he "sublet" his apartment to Chambers wrong by months. Imperfect memory happens.

As for the documents Hiss passed, they were of great importance to the former Soviet Union (OOH! I just LOVE to type "former Soviet Union!"), which already knew it was likely to end up in wars with Nazy Germany and Imperial Japan. Contrary to the claim, almost all the documents had been routed to Alger's department (some had his initials on them to show he'd seen them, some were handwritten by him). Much of the information passed to the Soviet Union concerned Japan's war in China. The trade agreements concerned U.S. trade with Nazi Germany, a subject of considerable interest to the USSR.

As for the other microfilm, it was never claimed that Hiss had anything to do with passing it. And while much of it was worthless, some was excellent technical intelligence (for example, inertia starters for aircraft engines). It was passed by a contact of Chambers in the Navy Dept.

And the "life preserver" was not intended to be a legal document. It was a threat to use against the GRU if they found Chambers and tried to kill him, a 'leave me alone or I'll expose some of your spies posthumously.'

All the above, btw, has been part of the public record for decades. It was mostly covered in the earliest books about the case, and it was ALL dealt with in Allen Weinstein's PERJURY: THE HISS-CHAMBERS CASE, which I give my highest recommendation.

Oh, about THIS book: these are classic essays by people involved with varying aspects of the case, looking at it from many different personal and political views. They're hard to come by, and I'd read less than half in my years of studying this case. By all means, read this to see why the Hiss perjury case was important, then and now.

A balanced history  Jan 25, 2003
This book is a collection of essays about the Hiss/Chambers case. All points of view are taken into account, including supporters of Hiss, supporters of Chambers, and various agnostics.

What is great about this book is that it doesn't just tell the story of the case, but it shows how these events influenced political thinking in America over the subsequent 50 years.

To criticize this book by taking shots at Whittaker Chambers, as if it were uniformly supporting him, is foolish, reactionary, and illiterate.

Master of Deceit  Jan 17, 2003
At first W. Chambers claimed that Alger Hiss and others were secret Communists whose purpose was to influence policy (from 1939 to November 1948). After being sued for slander Chambers produced 69 documents to support his claim of spying. Chambers earlier stated he was a Communist until "1935", or "early 1937", or "the end of 1937", or "the spring of 1937". The documents were dated between January 5 and April 1 of 1938. Chambers then changed his story to leaving on April 15, 1938. You can judge his veracity by this. Note his memory of wallpaper patterns!

The original State Department files were rated "classified" to "secret". Most consisted of trade agreements, which were of commercial, not political, importance. When Chambers learned that Alger Hiss could not type, he then claimed Priscilla did it! (Did writer and translator Chambers ASSUME that other men had this skill?) The most telling fact about these documents is that most had never been routed through sections where either Alger or Donald Hiss had worked! This discrepancy has never been explained. When the contents of the three rolls of microfilm were released in 1975, they were found to be Navy Dept instructions on how to use life rafts, fire extinguishers, and chest parachutes. Where did they come from?

The biggest lie of all is Chamber's claim that the stored documents were a "life preserver". Because they had no value without his testimony to corroborate them! He should have seen a lawyer, made a notarized statement, and left immortal testimony. But then it couldn't be changed to explain new facts.

Analytic essays by twenty-three learned authors  Jan 4, 2003
Carefully compiled and deftly edited by Patrick A. Swan (Public Affairs Liaison in the Chief Information Office of the United States Army), Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, And The Schism In The American Soul is a cornerstone marker of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of "Witness", a memoir of Whittaker Chambers' childhood, as well as his years as a communist writer, his work as a Soviet spy, and the trials in which he served as the U.S. government's primary witness against Alger Hiss. A compilation of scholarly and analytic essays by twenty-three learned authors, Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, And The Schism In The American Soul offers a series of impressive, informative discourses upon some of the most divisive and paranoid years in American history. Alger Hiss, Whittaker Chambers, And The Schism In The American Soul is a very highly recommended addition to 20th Century American History reference collections.

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