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Tony Hiss’ Travels and Recollections from 8th Street

Author Tony Hiss has written 14 books on a wide range of subjects, was a staff writer for the New Yorker for over 30 years, and served on Village Preservation’s Board of Advisors. Tony lives with his wife Lois Metzger, also an author, in the same two-bedroom walk-up at 22 East 8th Street that his parents Alger and Prossy Hiss rented in 1947, when they moved to NYC from Washington with 6-year old Tony.

4-26 East 8th Street looking west from University Place

Tony was born in Washington D.C. on August 5, 1941. His father Alger Hiss worked in a variety of roles in FDR’s administration and was later accused of passing secrets to the Russians. He was convicted of perjury related to espionage and served three and a half years of a five-year sentence.

Hiss’s most recent book is Long Road from Quito: Transforming Health Care in Rural Latin America. This book follows the life of David Gaus, a doctor committed to bringing modern medicine to poor, rural communities in Ecuador. Hiss’s other books cover a wide variety of subject matter including train travel, Hunanese cooking, giant pandas, photography, and both the landscape and the future of New York City and its region. In 1991 he released The Experience of Place: A New Way of Looking at and Dealing With our Radically Changing Cities and Countryside. This book explored why some places such as the concourse of Grand Central Terminal, a small farm, or even the corner of a skyscraper can affect us so mysteriously and forcefully, and what tiny changes in our everyday environments can radically alter the quality of our daily lives.

Author Tony Hiss

In 1996 he authored A Region at Risk: The Third Regional Plan For The New York-New Jersey-Connecticut Metropolitan Area Paperback. This study concluded that the area’s economic vitality and quality of life were at risk. It would face years of slow growth and uncertainty, was suffering from under-investment in infrastructure, and was showing social divisions and tensions. The Plan acknowledged that the region was facing a future in which it had to compete in a global economy that offered new opportunities and posed new challenges. While NYC’s population grew almost 20% and the City has experienced huge economic growth between 1996 and 2020, under-investment in infrastructure and social divisions and tensions remain front page issues for New Yorkers. The Plan’s 1996 findings sound similar to contemporary issues as it examines social issues that are either ignored or swept under the rug by a vast economic and governmental system that fails to bring people into the economic mainstream, and environmental efforts that focus on short-term solutions adressing the symptoms rather than the causes of problems.

The Experience of Place offers an innovative and delightfully readable proposal for new ways of planning, building, and managing our most immediate and overlooked surroundings.

His follow up to The Experience of Place, was In Motion: The Experience of Travel which explores how experiences that can happen during travel result in a special understanding and ability that can leave us feeling exhilarated. He illustrates how throughout human history — from our ancestors walking upright for the first time to astronauts walking on the moon — we have repeatedly availed ourselves of this seemingly elusive quality, which he calls “Deep Travel.”

Tony’s most personal book is The View from Alger’s Window, a memoir of the trial and imprisonment of his father, Alger Hiss. Tony Hiss was seven years old when Whittaker Chambers first accused Alger Hiss of passing secrets to the Russians on August 3, 1948.

These accusations and trial set the stage for McCarthy’s witch hunt. These circumstances and events shaped Tony’s life. Drawing on over 400 letters Alger sent from prison, this book counters public perceptions of Alger Hiss, showing his fundamental decency and draws a compelling portrait of an innocent man who fought through adversity to develop a close bond with his son.

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    One response to “Tony Hiss’ Travels and Recollections from 8th Street

    1. I knew Boz Hiss, Tony’s cousin, here in Cambridge many years ago now. He had joined a Zen Buddhist community in Cambridge. He was a sweet, caring and decent man. I met Tony at book events and always appreciated his work. I lived around the corner in The Brittany Hotel as a Freshman at NYU in 1968-69, a very busy year! (NYU SDS, etcetera.) The truth or falsehood of the accusations against “Alger” remain intriguing, contested, and worthy of investigation. (Boz believed his uncle was innocent of the charges.)

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