Alex Goodall

The Good Fight

Alger Hiss and the Battle for History

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Yale University Press 272pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

The Conservative Turn: Lionel Trilling, Whittaker Chambers, and the Lessons of Anti-Communism

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Harvard University Press 418pp £33.95 order from our bookshop

The Hiss–Chambers affair marked the point where the Cold War came home to America. In 1948, Whittaker Chambers – obese, troubled, scruffy, mumbling into the microphone of the House Un-American Activities Committee as he struggled to reconcile himself to his past life as a secret agent – accused a charming, articulate and successful former State Department official, Alger Hiss, of passing secret documents to the Soviets. Over the course of 1949, Americans followed the case obsessively as it unfolded through the newspapers, radio, and television, which for the first time provided direct coverage of congressional hearings. Hiss deployed the full force of the Establishment to defend his innocence, but after two trials Chambers was vindicated and Hiss sent to prison for perjury. The American public became sensitised to the threat of Communism from within, and the stage was thus set for McCarthyism.

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