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The View from Alger's Window: A Son's Memoir Paperback – July 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Although Tony Hiss firmly disbelieves the charge that his father was a Soviet agent who passed along State Department documents, the guilt or innocence of Alger Hiss is not entirely the point of this memoir. Instead, drawing on the letters Alger sent his wife and son during the nearly four years he spent in federal prison during the early 1950s, Tony Hiss reveals "the essence that Alger had kept private for so long," an "effervescent and playful" self far more appealing than the rather wooden, lawyerly public persona he adopted when defending himself during the trial. The warm human being who made friends easily, even in jail, was seldom available to his young son during the busy years that preceded Alger's incarceration. Their relationship deepened during his imprisonment, enabling Tony to endure those difficult years of deprivation and separation. Without minimizing the stresses on his family--Tony was plagued by bad dreams and inexplicable accidents; his parents separated a few years after Alger's release--the author emphasizes the courage and nobility of his father, who strove to find occasions for joy even behind bars. This is a moving, very human portrait of a man who in other accounts is usually either demonized or sanctified. --Wendy Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Fifty years ago, the Hiss case transfixed the country and launched the political career of Richard Nixon. Whether or not Alger Hiss was a spy has been the subject of numerous books, but beginning with Allen Weinstein's Perjury (LJ 3/1/78), the scholarly consensus has been that Hiss was guilty. The opening of the former Soviet Union's archives has further cemented this impression, as revealed in new books like Sam Tanenhaus Whittaker Chambers (LJ 2/1/97), John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr's Venona (LJ 4/15/99), and Weinstein's recent The Haunted Wood (LJ 11/15/98). Despite all this, Tony Hiss steadfastly maintains his father's innocence, and through an analysis of the letters Alger wrote to his family while serving a 44-month sentence for perjury, the son seeks to understand his father's mind and life. The result is an intriguing picture of the soul of one our country's most infamous figures. Tony Hiss's account may not change many minds as to the guilt or innocence of his father, but it does provide another piece in a complicated puzzle that still awaits solution. For libraries large and small.AEdward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed edition (July 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701281
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701283
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,145,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For years I've been fascinated by how peopole are affected by the changes in the places around them - cities and landscapes - and also by how people themselves change as they move through these places. My latest book, "In Motion: The Experience of Travel," explores a rewarding and vivid wide-awake-ness that travel can evoke - a state of mind I call Deep Travel. More information about Deep Travel and a forum for sharing your own Deep Travel stories can be found at the "In Motion" Web site: www.howwetravel.org

"In Motion" is my 13th book. My previous books, which include "The Experience of Place," have also covered train travel, Hunanese cooking, giant pandas, photography, the story of my family, the landscape of the Chicago area, and the landscape and future of the New York City region. I was a staff writer at The New Yorker for more than 30 years and I've lectured widely all over the world. Currently I'm a Visiting Scholar at New York University's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. I live in New York City with my wife, writer Lois Metzger, and our son.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Hegner on July 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Tony Hiss's book is one of the best books I've had the chance to read in recent years. He has made a concentrated attempt to put himself in his father's place during the nearly four years Alger Hiss spent in prison. It is thus truly an inside picture of Alger, his prison experience, and the forced separation from his family and friends. The author has combed his parents' letters from this period and has revealed much from them that give insights into Alger and Priscilla Hiss and the nature of their unusual marriage. Unlike some of the doctrinaire right wingers who have contributed other reviews to Amazon.com, I don't know if we'll ever know if Alger Hiss was guilty of espionage. Nor do I entirely agree with the thesis that if Alger was able to write such wonderful letters to his wife and son, he could not have been a Communist or a traitor. Suffice it to say, he did suffer a great fall in prestige and a public humiliation like few people in American history. Yet he remained remarkably unbitter about his experience. And as Tony demonstrates, prison made him a more complete human being. Yet, regardless of his guilt, he paid a high price, and this book helps the reader understand the nature of that price. Tony Hiss is remarkably open about many aspects of his family in this memorable book that I found hard to put down.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 25, 1999
Format: Hardcover
For every parent who has endured separation from a child, for every childhood filled wiwth longing to connect with an absent parent, Tony Hiss's beeautifully written memoir touches the heart. Played against the trial of the century, this is a true American classic, Father's Day book of the year.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Willa Bernhard Phd.(rbern26@aol.com) on August 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"The View from Alger's Window" is a memoir, simply and beautifully told, of a sensitive, perceptive boy growing up in the most unusual of circumstances. In my work as a therapist, I quest for ways to help patients turn adversity to advantage. I found tremendous value in the story of how Alger Hiss, imprisoned at the height of his career, saw jail as a place for "learning and growing," not a place to become bitter. Tony Hiss's story of his own psychological development is also revelatory-how he became emotionally frozen, how he created his own identity, how he grew up in the shadow of Alger Hiss and also in his father's light. Let the controvery over Alger Hiss's guilt or innocence rage elsewhere. Tony Hiss's story is a unique one, uniquely told.
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6 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is not a book about the guilt or innocence of Alger Hiss. It is a book about growing up with an enormously playful, intelligent and kind father who was demonized by the media and popular thought. It is a tragedy that Alger Hiss's incarceration was the turning point in his relationship with his son, Tony.
Tony Hiss did not write THE VIEW FROM ALGER'S WINDOW about the Hiss case; he wrote it about his relationship with his father. It is moving, beautifully written, fascinating -- a window into the mind of a man whom few knew, and into the boy who now, as a father himself, looks back at his own childhood.
Those who see this book as anything other than that are grossly deluded.
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12 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book for many of the reasons some writers here hated it, the author just doesn't quite "get" that his father was a spy, and while I don't care one whit about the history of the cold war (which is ancient history to me) I was fascinated by this son's attempt to romanticize his father and decipher a relationship which was, at different times, warm and false.
Who really gets to know the core thoughts of his or her parents? Not Tony. But I don't think that makes him so unusual. There's something strangely fascinating about the halo most children give to their parents. Alger Hiss was at peace with himself, it seems clear in hindsight, because he either believed in his work as a spy (something which isn't all that unusual for those times) or he was one of those people who could delude himself into thinking that night was day (also not that unusual, call it OJ Simpson-itis).
One gets no clue from this book that the son ever got into the head of the father when it comes to these questions, and yet I think that makes it interesting document, how many adult children can say the same thing? Those who read this book uncritically, of course, and don't see the cat and mouse game that the author is playing with himself, are being silly.
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12 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 4, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Gee, isn't it nice that Tony Hiss loved his dad. I just wish his dad had loved his country. The evidence is clear, despite what some obstinate liberals think, that Alger Hiss was a traitor. He spied for a totalitarian state that murdered millions of its own citizens, putting loyalty to communist theory ahead of the interests of his fellow citizens.
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