Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life

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The first major biography of legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn casts "a vivid spotlight on one of the most undercelebrated women of the 20th century" (Entertainment Weekly)

Martha Gellhorn's heroic career as a reporter brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant international conflict between the Spanish Civil War and the end of the cold war; her wartime dispatches rank among the best of the century. From her birth in St. Louis in 1908 to her death in...

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Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life

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The first major biography of legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn casts "a vivid spotlight on one of the most undercelebrated women of the 20th century" (Entertainment Weekly)

Martha Gellhorn's heroic career as a reporter brought her to the front lines of virtually every significant international conflict between the Spanish Civil War and the end of the cold war; her wartime dispatches rank among the best of the century. From her birth in St. Louis in 1908 to her death in London in 1998, the tall, glamorous blonde passed through Africa, Cuba, Panama, and most of the great cities of Europe. She made friends easily-among them Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and H. G. Wells-but happiness often eluded her despite her professional success: both of her marriages ended badly, the first, to Ernest Hemingway, dramatically and publicly so.

Drawn from extensive interviews and exclusive access to Gellhorn's papers and correspondence, this seminal biography spans half the globe and almost an entire century to offer an exhilarating, intimate portrait of one of the defining women of our times.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Moorehead gives] us not just the usual account of the career and the public person but an intimate look at the private person."

-The Washington Post Book World

"Gripping . . . [told] with historical command and psychological insight."

-The New York Times Book Review

The Washington Post
… [Gelhorn] remains an interesting figure, not least because she was a woman deeply torn between what convention expected of her and what her powerful independent streak desired for her, so it is good to have Caroline Moorehead's biography of her. — Jonathan Yardley
The New York Times
Moorehead, who has written biographies of Freya Stark and Bertrand Russell among others, tells this sad story with historical command and psychological insight. — Brenda Maddox
The New Yorker
From her early days as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War to her coverage, at the age of eighty-five, of murdered Brazilian street children, Martha Gellhorn was a defender of the underdog. Scornful of “all that objectivity shit” and intemperate in her judgments—friends were exiled, lovers dismissed—Gellhorn was driven to her itinerant existence by a terror of boredom. She was tall, blond, and legendarily tough; her marriage to Hemingway was celebrated with a dinner of roast moose. At the age of thirty-one, she travelled to Finland to await the Russian invasion; at forty-one, she adopted a child who had been abandoned in postwar Italy; in her fifties, she reported on the Vietnam War. Throughout, she remained a solitary being. “I only loved the world of men,” she wrote to a friend, “not the world of men-and-women.”
Publishers Weekly
Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) was a woman of enormous accomplishment. Writer and journalist, she covered the major international conflicts of her lifetime, from the Spanish civil war to Vietnam, managed to land on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day, entered Dachau a few days after it was liberated, observed the Nuremberg trials and, in the course of a long life, visited and wrote about most of the areas of the world. But she was a woman working in a man's world and, as the subtitle of Moorehead's first-rate biography reminds us, hers was a 20th century life, filled with all the contradictions between private and public existence experienced by most achieving women of her generation. As her first husband, Ernest Hemingway, put it before their acrimonious divorce, "Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?" a question Gellhorn finally answered by leaving him. As Moorehead shows, Gellhorn, at once tough and vulnerable, was surefooted in her professional life and capable of enduring friendships with people as varied as Eleanor Roosevelt, Robert Capa (some of whose photos are included) and Leonard Bernstein. Her intimate life was another matter, with both her marriages and her numerous affairs all ending in tears. Moorehead, the author of well-received biographies of Iris Origo and Bertrand Russell, was a friend of Gellhorn's, but the affection and admiration she feels for her subject (to whose papers she had exclusive access) does not prevent her from providing a vivid, balanced and fascinating portrait of a "woman who was oddly deaf to the intonations of feminism," and yet who paid a price for her independent spirit. 16 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. Agent, Clare Alexander. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Although best known for her work as a war correspondent in the early and mid-20th century, Martha Gellhorn also wrote novels and articles for publications such as the New Republic and Collier's, as well as letters to friends and journal entries. Moorehead (Betrand Russell; Iris Origo) has compiled an incredibly comprehensive biography that encompasses those sides of Gellhorn and more. Befriended by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt and Leonard Bernstein, she led a seemingly glamorous and full professional life, punctuated by travel and fueled by the desire to write and report on global injustices. Despite all this, Gellhorn was often unhappy and unsatisfied, as the author tells it. Her relationships with physically and emotionally unavailable men (including Orson Wells and Ernest Hemingway) left her feeling empty and alone, and she tried to fill the void with her work. By the time of her suicide at 90, suffering from cancer, Gellhorn noted, "The company of my friends, my own age and older, now depresses me horribly." Heavily laden with details, which makes reading a bit tedious at times, this book is recommended for academic and larger public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/03; Moorehead will edit a collection of Gellhorn's letters, to be published by Holt in 2004.-Ed.]-Valeda F. Dent, Hunter Coll., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A grand journalist and feminist emerges from Papa’s shadow in this high-toned—but oh-so-juicy—life by veteran biographer Moorehead (Dunant’s Dream, 1999, etc.). Mention Martha Gellhorn these days, and when she’s remembered at all—though she died in 1998—it’s often only as one of Ernest Hemingway’s long-suffering wives. But Gellhorn was much more: a combat correspondent who wrote enduring sketches of battle during some of the fiercest fighting of WWII ("Hemingway was not pleased when he heard that Martha had landed on Omaha Beach"), a leftist critic of American foreign policy and governments in general ("After a lifetime of war-watching," she wrote in the first days of the Reagan ascendancy, "I see war as an endemic human disease, and governments are the carriers"), and a model to journalists, particularly women, throughout much of her long career, one who thumbed her nose at "all that objectivity shit" but who produced some of the best literary journalism ever tapped out, and usually from some smoky hotel room in some out-of-the-way town. Moorehead ably captures these aspects of Gellhorn’s life and work, though she adds to the icon plenty of human foibles, from her long string of affairs with men scarcely able to keep up with her to her legendary disputes with editors great and small, including the legendary Max Perkins, whom she seems to have scared a little. A good chunk is given over, of course, to Gellhorn’s short marriage to Hemingway, born in the Spanish Civil War and effectively over by Pearl Harbor; of the whole business Gellhorn remarked, "A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being." But Moorehead devotes much more roomto Gellhorn’s independent adventures, from casual flings to episodes showing her extraordinary grace under pressure—as when, in Vietnam in 1966, she chided young American officers for being so ungallant as to duck when mortar shells began to land around them. A tough woman and marvelous writer gets her due. Agent: Clare Alexander/Gillon Aitken
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805076967
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/12/2004
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 576,175
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Caroline Moorehead is a distinguished biographer, book reviewer, and journalist. Gellhorn was nominated for the Whitbread Award for Biography and named one of the best books of the year by Entertainment Weekly and the San Francisco Chronicle. Moorehead will edit a collection of Gellhorn's letters and is also writing a book about the international refugee crisis, both for Henry Holt. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

New York with Hemingway was not what she expected. In Key West there had been time for long flirtatious meetings, time to talk seductively about writing and political commitments. In New York they were always in a crowd, everyone drinking, rushing in and out, answering the telephone, going to the Stork Club and Twenty One. Martha was frantic herself. She needed papers for Spain, and with some difficulty persuaded her friend Kyle Crichton at Collier's magazine to give her, not exactly a job, but a letter identifying her as their special correspondent. Martha also needed money for her boat ticket to Europe. Vogue obligingly commissioned her to write an article on "Beauty Problems of the Middle-Aged Woman," which involved acting as a guinea pig for a new experimental skin treatment. (It ruined her skin, she told a friend years later, but it got her to Spain.)

There was nothing now to keep her. Before boarding her ship, she wrote to Mrs. Barnes, a family friend in St. Louis: "Me, I am going to Spain with the boys. I don't know who the boys are, but I am going with them."

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Table of Contents

Preface 1
1 A Talking Childhood 11
2 In Search of a Hero 30
3 A Little Hungry for a Long Time 43
4 The Trees Don't Grow Tall Enough 72
5 To War with the Boys 102
6 Only Kind People Should Be Kind 129
7 Flint and Steel 155
8 The Last Toughness of Youth 182
9 An Honorable Profession 203
10 The Pale Empty Color of the Future 231
11 Nothing with Mirrors 264
12 The Habit of Living 291
13 The Capital of My Soul 320
14 Stones on the Heart 345
15 I Act, Therefore I Am 380
16 The Sin of Unhappiness 400
Sources and Select Bibliography 425
Acknowledgments 437
Books by Martha Gellhorn 441
Index 443
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Customer Reviews

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  • Posted December 12, 2013

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    Must read about Martha Gellhorn and her experiences as a woman reproter in the early part of the 20 th century between the late 20's to the late 90's.

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