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Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life

Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life

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by Caroline Moorehead

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The first major biography of legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, whose life provides a unique and thrilling perspective on world history in an extraordinary time

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


The first major biography of legendary war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, whose life provides a unique and thrilling perspective on world history in an extraordinary time

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. The preeminent-and often the only-female correspondent on the scene, she broke new ground for women in the male preserve of journalism. Her wartime dispatches, marked by a passionate desire to expose suffering in its many guises and an inimitable immediacy, rank among the best of the twentieth century.

A deep-seated love of travel complemented this interest in world affairs. From her birth in St. Louis in 1908 to her death in London in 1998, Gellhorn passed through Africa, Cuba, China, and most of the great cities of Europe, recording her experiences in first-rate travel writing and fiction. A tall, glamorous blonde, she made friends easily-among the boldface names that populated her life were Eleanor Roosevelt, Leonard Bernstein, and H. G. Wells-but she was as incapable of settling into comfortable long-term relationships as she was of sitting still, and happiness often eluded her despite her professional success. Both of her marriages ended badly-the first, to Ernest Hemingway, publicly so.

Drawn from extensive interviews and with 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.

Editorial Reviews

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
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

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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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."

Meet the Author

Caroline Moorehead is a distinguished biographer, book reviewer, and journalist. Her biographies of Iris Origo and Bertrand Russell were both New York Times Notable Books.She will edit a collection of Gellhorn's letters, to be published by Henry Holt in 2004, and is also writing a book about the international refugee crisis. She lives in London.

Caroline Moorehead's biographies Bertrand Russell: A Life and Iris Origo: Marchesa of Val D'Orcia were both New York Times Notable Books. She lives in London.

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Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
kateygirl80 More than 1 year ago
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.