IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION by Alger Hiss

IN THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Alger Hiss' review of the most controversial case of our time is- as one might assume from the title- an attempt to find a fairer hearing and to reverse the judgment of the court which found him guilty- a judgment which, based as it was on the confusing, contradictory evidence in the case, left a large residuum of doubt. And while today the uneasy climate of suspicion in which the case was heard has dissipated, and while the violent partisanship of belief- or disbelief- in the two men-Hiss and Chambers- has died down, it is still probably as difficult to evaluate certain aspects of the case now as it was at the time of the original trial. Many of the details have certainly been obscured by the passage of time. This is a contained and dignified presentation (words which could hardly have been applied to Whittaker Chambers' Witness) and it begins with Hiss' first appearance before the Committee on Un-American Activities, goes on through the confrontation to the indictment, the trails and finally the ""new evidence of fraud and forgery"". This new evidence (on which an attempt for an appeal was later based and denied) is the most current attraction for new readers and deals with the duplication of the Woodstock type-writer, shows that Priscilla Hiss did not type the Baltimore Documents, and adds the testimony of Lee Pressman who was one of many who refused to testify at the time because of self-incrimination. In the overall review of the case, one must again pause to wonder at the methods of the Committee in their ""preconceived mission of exposing 'espionage'"", at the many inconsistencies and inaccuracies in Chambers' testimony, at the palpable prejudice in the atmosphere of the courtroom- although one is still left with the unanswerable question of Chambers' motive- was it only, as Hiss suggests here, a diversionary tactic to save himself? And since, as Hiss acknowledges, this case had only one real issue-Chambers' veracity as against his- it is once again left to the reader to reach his own verdict of guilt or innocence. Hiss, in this book, is certainly his own, best advocate- but how large a ""court of public opinion"" he will reach is questionable.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1957
Publisher: Knopf