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Susan Jacoby taken to task by Whittaker Chambers's grandson for not consulting Harvey Klehr's book on Hiss

Susan Jacoby is a gifted writer. She is deft and light. As a grandchild of Whittaker Chambers (who was another gifted writer, if rarely so light), I looked forward to "Alger Hiss and the Battle for History." How would she weigh in on the Hiss case?

Her latest book begins with a clever foil. She has her own mother ask of this book about the Hiss case, "Who cares about that anymore?" We should, Ms. Jacoby holds. People today need to avoid the "swift eclipses of historical memory" too common in American culture. They need to care about the Hiss case. Much of today's fissured politics formed back then.

Ms. Jacoby writes in a conversational, even chatty tone that makes reading this slim volume a pleasure. She probably had in mind a book along the lines of the late Richard Rorty's "Achieving Our Country" (1998). However, at critical moments, she appears not to have thought through or stuck to her mission. The results are disastrous.

The main goal Ms. Jacoby sets for herself is noble. "The contradictory historical scripts about the Hiss case reveal much more about conflicting visions of what America ought to be." These scripts are less about "what American communism actually was - or about who Alger Hiss was." However, she rambles rather than guides or glides readers through the six decades since the Hiss case. ...

Perhaps strangest is this book's omission of new findings by another recent Yale publication. "Spies" (May 2009) opens with the bold chapter title, "Alger Hiss: Case Closed." It claims to seal the coffin (if not bury the grave plot) on Mr. Hiss' guilt. Nothing from "Spies" appears in Ms. Jacoby's book. According to "Spies" co-author Harvey Klehr, Yale's editor Jonathan Brent offered her access to the book's new findings. Apparently, Ms. Jacoby took a pass....
Read entire article at David Chambers in the Washington Times