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A highly selective and sporadically engaging memoir from one of the McCarthy era's most celebrated casualties. Born in 1904, Hiss seemed to rank among the best and the brightest of his generation. Following graduation from Harvard Law School (where he was a protÉgÉ of Felix Frankfurter), he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. An ardent New Dealer, Hiss landed on a fast track at the State Department; he was a member of FDR's entourage at Yalta and subsequently served as secretary-general of the UN's 1945 organizational conference in San Francisco. In 1948, however, after having been named president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hiss was accused by Whittaker Chambers of being a Communist spy. Eventually convicted on perjury, not espionage, charges, he spent 44 months in a federal penitentiary. Released from prison late in 1954, Hiss wrote an exculpatory book about his trials (In the Court of Public Opinion) and otherwise strove to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. While he finally secured gainful employment in sales work, he remained preoccupied with reversing his conviction. Despite promising new evidence unearthed during the mid-1970's, though, the author lost what appears to be his last appeal in 1983. Resigned now to an ambiguous fate, Hiss looks back with obvious pleasure and in unemotional anger at the high as well as low points of his 80-odd years. With stops along the way to settle scores with Chambers, J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon, and other nemeses, he offers kind words to steadfast friends, plus personal reactions on a host of contemporaneous notables--Byrnes, Churchill, Eden, Kennan, Molotov, Eleanor Roosevelt, Spaak, Stalin, et al. On balance, however, his matter-of-fact and unapologetic reminiscences are more bland than haunting. The intermittently absorbing text has 16 pages of candid and press photographs.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1988
Publisher: Henry Holt