PERJURY: The Hiss-Chambers Case by Allen Weinstein
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PERJURY: The Hiss-Chambers Case

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KIRKUS REVIEW

At a distance of 30 years, Professor Weinstein purports to write of the Hiss-Chambers case above Cold War politics for the very first time. He believes adamantly that in 1937-38 Alger Hiss was guilty of passing important documents and microfilm from his responsible position in the State Department to Chambers who was, at the time, a trusted comrade in ""secret work."" Toward this conclusion Weinstein has amassed a mountain of evidence, enough ""proof"" to pulverize Hiss' defenders, though maybe not enough to persuade them. The evidence, some of it gleaned from recently opened FBI files, is indeed, as Weinstein himself concedes, outre enough to come from some phantasmagoric spy thriller. Secret microfilm hidden for nine years in a dumbwaiter, surfacing finally in a pumpkin; the testimony of varous maids that Hiss and Chambers--the latter under whatever name--appeared in each other's houses; ornithology, the telltale hobby which clinched Chambers' identification of Hiss as his confederate in an underground Washington, D.C., Party cell; the disposition of an expensive Bokhara rug, a reward for espionage delivered to Hiss by Chambers at the behest of a top Soviet agent. The cumulative effect of such details is to obliterate what Weinstein calls Hiss' ""defense by reputation"" and to minimize the unstable, possibly psychotic personality of Chambers whose character Hiss' friends and attorneys have consistently used as prima fade evidence of a frame-up. Yet, Weinstein's case isn't as absolute as he suggests. There remains, for one thing, the question of why Chambers waited four months after his initial HUAC testimony against Hiss to mention espionage at all (Chambers' own explanation that he was shielding Hiss out of fondness and because Hiss was a ""brilliant young man"" is exceptionally unconvincing). Further, though Weinstein is certain that the new, post-Watergate tilt toward Hiss is unwarranted, others will find Nixon's 1970s references to the typewriter we ""got"" or ""built""--indeed Nixon's whole involvement with Chambers--more troubling. Weinstein has already drawn wide attention for his attack on John Chabot Smith's 1976 Alger Hiss in the New York Review of Books. This extensive and intricate account will be seized upon by partisans and scrutinized in the press as a thoroughgoing re-examination if not the last word.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1978
Publisher: Knopf