Catalogue


The view from Alger's window : a son's memoir /
Tony Hiss.
edition
1st ed.
imprint
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
description
241 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
ISBN
037540127X (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
author
imprint
New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1999.
isbn
037540127X (alk. paper)
catalogue key
3477485
A Look Inside
Excerpts
Excerpt from Book
From Chapter One On a muted, misty late-November morning in 1997, I made an unremarkable, unmarked right turn off a suburban highway strip in north-central Pennsylvania--and abruptly, a year after his death, began a strange, rewarding period of vividly renewed contact with my father, Alger Hiss. I've seen again the full person he was, his strengths and gaps and the ways he changed, and I've revisited the rich inner world that sustained him and that only a very few people ever got to see. I've been learning how much of him there is in me, particularly in areas I've liked to think were my own invention. He's also been jogging my mind, it seems, posing questions, pointing out possibilities, suggesting strategies and next steps. From out of the anywhere, it arrived--this wild rose, this lovely, sweet-smelling, prickly gift--with nothing more complicated than a right turn. The only explicit piece of fatherly advice I can remember my father giving me was:Whatever you're going to do, get it up and running before you're seventy, because that's when the machinery inside starts to break down.Now I've collected a second piece of advice for my own son to think about someday (he's still only seven):You won't--can't--know ahead of time when some not-to-be-ignored idea may overtake you. Since once-upon-a-time wishes, like wanting to spend more time with your father, don't expire just because you haven't thought about them for decades--the fairy tales that deal with the subject of wish-granting don't spell out all the rules, such as the fact that deliveries are erratic and unscheduled. So try not to let your calendar get too cluttered. I don't think there's anything either unique or spooky (or ennobling or neurotic, for that matter) about what's been happening to me. My father himself even had a name for a kind of ongoing closeness between people in which death is sometimes only an irrelevance. He called it "the Great Span," a sort of bucket brigade or relay race across time, a way for adjacent generations to let ideas and goals move intact from one mind to another across a couple of hundred years or more. He thought its purpose was to keep unifying memories alive. As Alger explained it, it had been his privilege as a young lawyer to hear a series of Great Span stories from Oliver Wendell Holmes, the man he most admired in life--Holmes was then eighty-eight, ramrod straight, with a booming voice and an elegant white handlebar mustache, and still a Supreme Court Justice. Alger was his clerk. Alger could repeat these stories, word for word, for the rest of his life. In the Civil War, the young Lieutenant Holmes, from the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, was wounded three times, and at Ball's Bluff, when he was twenty, he was shot in the breast and left for dead when the Union forces retreated across the Potomac. His sergeant, who had heard him moaning, "How will I get to the other side?" said, "Well, Holmesy, you don't have to worry about that. You believe in Jesus Christ and all that, so you'll be all right." "I got so damn mad," Holmes said later, "that I decided to live!" In the Holmes story Alger treasured above all others, the Justice told him that when he had been very young, his grandmother, a woman he revered, had shared her memories of the day at the beginning of the American Revolution when she was five and had stood in her father's front window on Beacon Hill in Boston and watched rank after rank of Redcoats marching through town. Ever after, my father said, the awed, scared experience of a little girl born more than a century and a quarter before him had been a bright presence in his own mind. The Beacon Hill house later became headquarters for Lord Howe, the British commandant, and Holmes owned an old mirror from that house. Holmes left the mirror to Alger, and it now hangs in my living room. "Sometimes when I look in
Excerpt from Book
From Chapter One On a muted, misty late-November morning in 1997, I made an unremarkable, unmarked right turn off a suburban highway strip in north-central Pennsylvania--and abruptly, a year after his death, began a strange, rewarding period of vividly renewed contact with my father, Alger Hiss. I've seen again the full person he was, his strengths and gaps and the ways he changed, and I've revisited the rich inner world that sustained him and that only a very few people ever got to see. I've been learning how much of him there is in me, particularly in areas I've liked to think were my own invention. He's also been jogging my mind, it seems, posing questions, pointing out possibilities, suggesting strategies and next steps. From out of the anywhere, it arrived--this wild rose, this lovely, sweet-smelling, prickly gift--with nothing more complicated than a right turn. The only explicit piece of fatherly advice I can remember my father giving me was: Whatever you're going to do, get it up and running before you're seventy, because that's when the machinery inside starts to break down. Now I've collected a second piece of advice for my own son to think about someday (he's still only seven): You won't--can't--know ahead of time when some not-to-be-ignored idea may overtake you. Since once-upon-a-time wishes, like wanting to spend more time with your father, don't expire just because you haven't thought about them for decades--the fairy tales that deal with the subject of wish-granting don't spell out all the rules, such as the fact that deliveries are erratic and unscheduled. So try not to let your calendar get too cluttered. I don't think there's anything either unique or spooky (or ennobling or neurotic, for that matter) about what's been happening to me. My father himself even had a name for a kind of ongoing closeness between people in which death is sometimes only an irrelevance. He called it "the Great Span," a sort of bucket brigade or relay race across time, a way for adjacent generations to let ideas and goals move intact from one mind to another across a couple of hundred years or more. He thought its purpose was to keep unifying memories alive. As Alger explained it, it had been his privilege as a young lawyer to hear a series of Great Span stories from Oliver Wendell Holmes, the man he most admired in life--Holmes was then eighty-eight, ramrod straight, with a booming voice and an elegant white handlebar mustache, and still a Supreme Court Justice. Alger was his clerk. Alger could repeat these stories, word for word, for the rest of his life. In the Civil War, the young Lieutenant Holmes, from the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, was wounded three times, and at Ball's Bluff, when he was twenty, he was shot in the breast and left for dead when the Union forces retreated across the Potomac. His sergeant, who had heard him moaning, "How will I get to the other side?" said, "Well, Holmesy, you don't have to worry about that. You believe in Jesus Christ and all that, so you'll be all right." "I got so damn mad," Holmes said later, "that I decided to live!" In the Holmes story Alger treasured above all others, the Justice told him that when he had been very young, his grandmother, a woman he revered, had shared her memories of the day at the beginning of the American Revolution when she was five and had stood in her father's front window on Beacon Hill in Boston and watched rank after rank of Redcoats marching through town. Ever after, my father said, the awed, scared experience of a little girl born more than a century and a quarter before him had been a bright presence in his own mind. The Beacon Hill house later became headquarters for Lord Howe, the British commandant, and Holmes owned an old mirror from that house. Holmes left the mirror to Alger, and it now hangs in my living room. "Sometimes when I look
First Chapter
From Chapter One On a muted, misty late-November morning in 1997, I made an unremarkable, unmarked right turn off a suburban highway strip in north-central Pennsylvania--and abruptly, a year after his death, began a strange, rewarding period of vividly renewed contact with my father, Alger Hiss. I've seen again the full person he was, his strengths and gaps and the ways he changed, and I've revisited the rich inner world that sustained him and that only a very few people ever got to see. I've been learning how much of him there is in me, particularly in areas I've liked to think were my own invention. He's also been jogging my mind, it seems, posing questions, pointing out possibilities, suggesting strategies and next steps. From out of the anywhere, it arrived--this wild rose, this lovely, sweet-smelling, prickly gift--with nothing more complicated than a right turn. The only explicit piece of fatherly advice I can remember my father giving me was: Whatever you're going to do, get it up and running before you're seventy, because that's when the machinery inside starts to break down. Now I've collected a second piece of advice for my own son to think about someday (he's still only seven): You won't--can't--know ahead of time when some not-to-be-ignored idea may overtake you. Since once-upon-a-time wishes, like wanting to spend more time with your father, don't expire just because you haven't thought about them for decades--the fairy tales that deal with the subject of wish-granting don't spell out all the rules, such as the fact that deliveries are erratic and unscheduled. So try not to let your calendar get too cluttered. I don't think there's anything either unique or spooky (or ennobling or neurotic, for that matter) about what's been happening to me. My father himself even had a name for a kind of ongoing closeness between people in which death is sometimes only an irrelevance. He called it "the Great Span," a sort of bucket brigade or relay race across time, a way for adjacent generations to let ideas and goals move intact from one mind to another across a couple of hundred years or more. He thought its purpose was to keep unifying memories alive. As Alger explained it, it had been his privilege as a young lawyer to hear a series of Great Span stories from Oliver Wendell Holmes, the man he most admired in life--Holmes was then eighty-eight, ramrod straight, with a booming voice and an elegant white handlebar mustache, and still a Supreme Court Justice. Alger was his clerk. Alger could repeat these stories, word for word, for the rest of his life. In the Civil War, the young Lieutenant Holmes, from the 20th Massachusetts Volunteers, was wounded three times, and at Ball's Bluff, when he was twenty, he was shot in the breast and left for dead when the Union forces retreated across the Potomac. His sergeant, who had heard him moaning, "How will I get to the other side?" said, "Well, Holmesy, you don't have to worry about that. You believe in Jesus Christ and all that, so you'll be all right." "I got so damn mad," Holmes said later, "that I decided to live!" In the Holmes story Alger treasured above all others, the Justice told him that when he had been very young, his grandmother, a woman he revered, had shared her memories of the day at the beginning of the American Revolution when she was five and had stood in her father's front window on Beacon Hill in Boston and watched rank after rank of Redcoats marching through town. Ever after, my father said, the awed, scared experience of a little girl born more than a century and a quarter before him had been a bright presence in his own mind. The Beacon Hill house later became headquarters for Lord Howe, the British commandant, and Holmes owned an old mirror from that house. Holmes left the mirror to Alger, and it now hangs in my living room. "Sometimes when I look
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Library Journal on 1999-02-01:
As intimate an account as we're likely to get; a 40,000-copy first printing. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Reviews
Review Quotes
"A loving, beautifully written tribute by a son to a father who suffered and, in spirit, prevailed." --The Atlanta Journal-Consitution "In this intimate and appreciative memoir, Tony Hiss . . . has achieved what must surely have been his boyhood dream: to free his father from history's imprisonment." --The Boston Globe "Poignant, wonderfully written and deeply troubling. . . . A haunting record." --The New York Times "[A] tender hagiography . . . heartbreakingly sweet." --Time From the Trade Paperback edition.
"A loving, beautifully written tribute by a son to a father who suffered and, in spirit, prevailed." --The Atlanta Journal-Consitution "In this intimate and appreciative memoir, Tony Hiss . . . has achieved what must surely have been his boyhood dream: to free his father from history's imprisonment." --The Boston Globe "Poignant, wonderfully written and deeply troubling. . . . A haunting record." --The New York Times "[A] tender hagiography . . . heartbreakingly sweet." --Time
This item was reviewed in:
Library Journal, February 1999
Booklist, April 1999
Kirkus Reviews, June 1999
Library Journal, June 1999
Chicago Tribune, July 1999
San Francisco Chronicle, May 2000
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
This powerful and moving memoir opens a new perspective on one of the most controversial and still talked-about figures of the century. Using his father's letters from prison--three a week, two pages long, were allowed--and other family letters never before made public, as well as the recollections of friends and relatives, Tony Hiss moves back and forth in time to tell the story of Alger Hiss's life, and of his own experience as a young boy swept up in the turmoil of the trial that signaled the opening of the Cold War. For the first time we go behind the public persona of Alger Hiss--the Oliver Wendell Holmes law clerk, the idealistic New Dealer, the founding Secretary-General of the United Nations, the defender of his innocence against Whittaker Chambers's charges of spying for the Soviet Union. For the first time we meet the man his family and friends knew as warm and witty, honest to a fault, intellectually searching, and enormously giving to those he loved. For the first time, too, we hear from Alger's stepson, Timothy Hobson, a boy of ten in the thirties when the disputed events occurred, who tells his side of the story. Tony Hiss was just turning seven in 1948 when the charges against his father surfaced, and we see how he and his mother tried, with varying success, to cope with what was happening to them as fair-weather friends, and income, and jobs, dropped away. We also see how the friends who did remain created a protective bubble around them, enabling them to survive. And finally we learn how, almost miraculously, Alger's letters and the prison visits brought Tony and his father closer than they had ever been, and how perhaps the whole experience gave Alger Hiss a kind and common touch he had previously lacked. The View from Alger's Windowis a revelatory opening into one of the defining episodes of post-World War II America, poignantly evoking an entire era. It is also the record of a father's sensitive, against-all-odds efforts to make the unbearable possible for his young son, and the son's loving--but always clear-eyed-- tribute to his father.
Main Description
This powerful and moving memoir opens a new perspective on one of the most controversial and still talked-about figures of the century. Using his father's letters from prison--three a week, two pages long, were allowed--and other family letters never before made public, as well as the recollections of friends and relatives, Tony Hiss moves back and forth in time to tell the story of Alger Hiss's life, and of his own experience as a young boy swept up in the turmoil of the trial that signaled the opening of the Cold War. For the first time we go behind the public persona of Alger Hiss--the Oliver Wendell Holmes law clerk, the idealistic New Dealer, the founding Secretary-General of the United Nations, the defender of his innocence against Whittaker Chambers's charges of spying for the Soviet Union. For the first time we meet the man his family and friends knew as warm and witty, honest to a fault, intellectually searching, and enormously giving to those he loved. For the first time, too, we hear from Alger's stepson, Timothy Hobson, a boy of ten in the thirties when the disputed events occurred, who tells his side of the story. Tony Hiss was just turning seven in 1948 when the charges against his father surfaced, and we see how he and his mother tried, with varying success, to cope with what was happening to them as fair-weather friends, and income, and jobs, dropped away. We also see how the friends who did remain created a protective bubble around them, enabling them to survive. And finally we learn how, almost miraculously, Alger's letters and the prison visits brought Tony and his father closer than they had ever been, and how perhaps the whole experience gave Alger Hiss a kind and common touch he had previously lacked. The View from Alger's Window is a revelatory opening into one of the defining episodes of post-World War II America, poignantly evoking an entire era. It is also the record of a father's sensitive, against-all-odds efforts to make the unbearable possible for his young son, and the son's loving--but always clear-eyed-- tribute to his father.
Publisher Fact Sheet
A powerful & moving memoir that opens up a new perspective on one of the most talked-about & controversial figures of the century. Using his father's letters from prison (three two-page letters a week were allowed) other family letters, & the recollections of friends & relatives, the author moves back & forth in time to tell the story of Alger Hiss's life, & of his own experience as a young boy swept up in the turmoil of the trial that signaled the opening of the cold war. For the first time, we go behind the public persona of Alger Hiss-Oliver Wendell Holmes's law clerk, idealistic New Dealer, a founding father of the UN, & sometimes pompous stuffed shirt-to meet the man his family & friends knew as warm & witty, honest to a fault, intellectually searching, & enormously giving to those he loved. A revelation of one of the defining episodes of the cold war, The View from Alger's Window is also the story of a father's sensitive, almost superhuman efforts to make the unbearable possible for his young son, & the son's poignant, loving, & always clear-eyed tribute to his father.

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